Higher tuition fees offset by substantial bursary schemes to support students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, is the way forward for the LSE, suggested a number of students at last week’s ‘Future of Fees at LSE’ consultation meeting.
Students used the discussion, chaired by Students’ Union General Secretary Charlotte Gerada, to debate the School’s response to cuts in government funding, with some favouring a freeze on fees; others, a means tested system of charging students.
Ideas proposed in the meeting, for LSE students and organised by the LSE Students’ Union Sabbatical Officers, will form the basis of a survey to be sent to all LSE students aiming to identify the key arguments Officers should put to the School in their capacity as student representatives on the relevant committees. The survey seeks to establish “bottom line” principles which should not be compromised given the “worst case scenario”.
The meeting marked a change in emphasis from the Sabbatical Officers in their approach to fees at the LSE. Responding to Gerada’s preliminary remarks which emphasised the need to find out what students thought was the best way for the School to set fees, International Students’ Officer Michael Lok asked if this connoted an end to the frees the fees campaign. Gerada pointed to the funding situation being “worse than expected”, concluding that as well as continuing the ‘Freeze the Fees’ campaign, the Students’ Union also needed to make more feasible suggestions that the School would be more likely to take on board. Community and Welfare Officer Hero Austin added, “We are keen to engage with students who felt alienated by ‘Freeze the Fees’”.
The initiative comes in response to concerns for prospective LSE students in light of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, the possibility of the School facing 100 per cent cuts to teaching grants and the prospect of annual tuition fees of up £9,000.
All present were in agreement that the LSE could do more to widen participation. In particular concerns were voiced regarding the lack of student involvement in the widening participation activities. Gerada suggested easy improvements could make the process “more inspiring”.
She argued that “the LSE will need to consider improving its scholarship and bursary schemes”. Gerada voiced concerns that a fees increase will deter students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from attending the LSE, “particularly,” she added, “as it already has the perception of being elitist and unreachable to some.”
The LSE deny this claim, stating: “Our proportion of state school pupils was 71% last year compared to 55% at Oxford, 59% at Cambridge and 64% at UCL.” The LSE also has the largest proportion of ethnic minority students out of any Russell Group university.
The School will continue to monitor its level of bursaries as part of their ongoing review of student support. “It is likely that a revised scheme will be necessary, but we do not yet know what the national scheme will look like,” said an LSE spokesperson. The LSE will have to wait for the government’s grant allocation, which will occur in January. This leaves a very short timeframe in which to make fee-setting decisions so as to have the information available to prospective students entering in 2012.
Polly McKinlay, an LSE student who attended the meeting, said: “I think the most important measure for access is to have large bursaries giving upfront money as opposed to a discount on fees, but for particularly high achieving students, so that it doesn’t just become an entitlement.
LSE Director, Sir Howard Davies, made it clear in a recent letter to the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, that the proposed reduction in teaching grants for non-STEM subjects “diminishes the value of the humanities and social sciences” and ignores the public benefit they provide.