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Students to have value-for-money contracts with their universities

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Students are set to have contracts with their universities, allowing them to challenge the institutions if they feel that the number of teaching hours or facilities are inadequate, according to a recent announcement by Universities Minister Jo Johnson.

The move is intended to give detailed contractual certainty and encourage institutions to become more responsive to their students’ needs. The contracts, which will cover contact time, resources and assessments, are to be brought in by the newly-initiated Office for Students.

While Johnson dismissed the policy of abolishing tuition fees as a “disaster of epic proportions,” he underlined that there was a growing concern amongst students over the lack of value for money and warned universities to stop “excessive” pay for vice-chancellors.

This comes after a report from the University and College Union found that vice-chancellors on average received pay packets of £277,000, over six and a half times the average staff wages.

Warwick’s former vice-chancellor Sir Nigel Thrift, along with his successor Stuart Croft were singled out for spending more than any other university on flights, having paid £46,348 on almost exclusively business class flights in a single academic year.

Despite the incumbent vice-chancellor taking a substantial cut, Warwick’s pay was second only to Southampton’s, at £697,000 in 2015/16. Meanwhile, 128 Warwick staff were found to be earning over £100,000, higher than any Midlands university.

Universities in the Russell Group have not responded positively to the promise of the student contracts, commenting that the threat of legal action could in fact have a negative impact on the quality of teaching and facilities.

A smokescreen to dodge mounting evidence that the cost of loans is pushing students away
Gordon Marsden

However, Labour’s Universities spokesman Gordon Marsden accused Johnson of being “completely toothless” over the vice-chancellor pay issue, adding that the contract announcement was “a smokescreen to dodge mounting evidence that the cost of loans is pushing students away from applying to university and forcing more to drop out.”

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has warned that the increase of tuition fees to £9,250 along with the rising interest rates will result in graduates leaving university with average debts of more than £50,000.

Although Johnson assured that the higher fees would remain “under review,” he dismissed as “entirely false” and “outrageous” claims that they were deterring disadvantaged students from entering higher education, claiming that university applications from poorer students were at record levels.

Last month, a report by the Office for Fair Access found that the number of students dropping out of university for financial reasons had reached its highest point in five years.

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