Dissatisfaction which had been raised over several years about hidden costs on a range of courses at Northumbria University led to Northumbria Students' Union (NSU) prioritising the issue last year.
NSU capitalised on discussions with the University about the future fees pricing strategy to carry out some research about hidden course costs, with a view to ensuring that no student should have to pay unbudgeted, unanticipated and unreasonable costs for things that are essential or important to their success at University.
In order to develop a campaign the union collected two sets of data. Firstly they used their school and course rep systems as well as 'go out and listen' days to collect examples of the types of costs incurred by students at the university.
School reps were given simple pro-formas to give to their course reps and had access to a Survey Monkey account to input the examples they collected.
The second set of information they collected was a visual representation of the amounts of money involved in hidden course fees. Sabbatical officers and volunteers collected 300 photos of students holding whiteboards with the amount of money they spent on hidden course costs written on the whiteboard.
This visually represented the amounts spent as well as demonstrating student feeling around the issue.
NSU presented the information collected in a report which provided information about different categories of hidden costs, how much students were paying and differences across departments.
In presenting these findings, the union also outlined the limitations of the research in an open and transparent way. They noted that the research demonstrated perceptions around hidden costs although they had no capacity to check the figures that students presented.
Officers and staff in the union presented the findings at various meetings and committees including to the Vice Chancellor’s Executive Team and the Board of Governors, as well as senior teams in schools.
In addition to this lobbying strategy, a banner was hung outside the union highlighting the union’s campaign to students.
The timing of the research was crucial. At a time when the University was setting fees of £8,500 per year following the vote in Parliament, the union was able to make the argument that increased fees should include any hidden costs so as not to compound disadvantage to the poorest students beginning University after 2012.
The outcome of this to date has been that the University Board of Governors has agreed to the removal of additional costs when ‘legal and affordable’. The next stage of the work will involve negotiating the meaning of ‘legal and affordable’ with the University…
Read Northumbria Students' Union Hidden Fees Report