Greater clarity needed on university fee hikes

With persistent inflationary concerns and other cost pressures, the ritual of universities increasing tuition fees appears reasonable at first glance ("Local universities increase fees, citing rising operating costs"; last Saturday).

Yet, the dissatisfaction among undergraduates often stems from the poor communication of announcements, and the corresponding lack of clarity. Even with generous government subsidies, college remains an expensive undertaking, so administrations should entertain demands for further substantiation.

Therefore, besides the generic reasons of "rising operating costs" and "creating online learning systems", there should be supplementary information to justify hikes in tuition fees.

The request for more clarity is not necessarily for comprehensive financial statements, which may be sensitive or tedious to produce, but for more exposition on how the respective schools intend to use the additional funds, and more useful explanations on costs for faculty, equipment and operating costs, which these funds go towards.

These details do not need to be made public, and could be disseminated to students through internal circulars or sharing sessions.

Questions about how different degree programmes determine their fee hikes can thus be raised. Faculty members and undergraduates could also ask administrators about the efficacy of new pedagogies or infrastructure.

Another assurance that universities often cite is the availability of financial help in the form of scholarships, bursaries, and loans.

However, they should quantify these schemes - what is the total amount made available to prospective students from low-income households, and has this amount increased in tandem with the fee hikes?

Also, how many students have been awarded scholarships or bursaries, and, when adjusted proportionately, has this number grown? Have there been more applicants over the years, reflecting greater awareness of such schemes? One might even wonder whether starting salaries aggregated from the Graduate Employment Survey match up to these university fee increases.

These endeavours of accountability could provide greater clarity and strengthen relationships with stakeholders.

This article was first published on April 7, 2015.
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