Another week, another headline about English universities charging students over the odds: “University fees: Half opting for top fees”.
The BBC has carried out a survey of 54 English universities and found that over half of them have already decided to charge their students the top-level fee of £9,000 per year for all their courses.
The fact that many universities decided to charge the maximum amount wasn’t a big surprise – after all, they have all had to re-align their funding as a result of government cuts. But what really surprised me was to find out that so many of them were going to do so on ALL of their courses. I really struggle to see how any of them can justify doing so. What exactly are they doing to improve the courses in such way that they can justify putting the prices up for all of them? I can understand how a highly technical or scientific course may require a huge investment in order to remain current, competitive and at the top of its field, but I can’t see how for instance a course in languages or literature could justify such a hike in price.
The real question that prospective students need to ask universities is: “what am I getting for this money”?
We talk to many students who have taken university courses in 3D or animation and invariably, what we hear from all of them is that they hardly ever got any time in ‘labs’ learning the technical skills they need to get a job. On average, students in these courses get around 2 hours per week in labs. A lucky few will get up to 6 to 8 hours per week during a short period of time when preparing projects, but even so, time allocated in labs is pretty low. It’s easy to understand why: universities have to deal with much larger number of students than we do.
In our own classroom courses, which are entirely geared towards learning technical skills, students are in labs all day, every day. It means that for a typical 12-week course with us, you get 360 hours of lab time. This time is spent in classes of 12 students with a highly skilled professional tutor and a classroom assistant – in an environment where we give as much personal attention to all students as is required.
Now, I want to be fair to universities. I do know that the tuition that they offer is geared differently to ours. They deliver sound and thorough theoretical education over a much longer period of time, whereas we focus entirely on getting very hands-on technical skills over a short period of time.
What you have to ask yourself is what exactly do you want from your education. If you are after a job in VFX or Character Animation and want to go straight into a junior level job after university, then ask your university how many hours you will spend learning hands-on skills in labs with an instructor. If the response is only 2 or 3 hours a week, then it’s highly unlikely you will have developed the skills needed to get that junior job. This is why people come to us.