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Universities take action to better explain to students how their fee income is spent

Published today (22 Oct) A Guide to Presenting Institutional Financial Information to Students will help universities better explain to students how fee income, and other sources of income, are spent. 

With a recent HEPI report* showing around three quarter of students feel their university does not provide enough information on its spending, Universities UK has produced materials to support and encourage universities to present income and spending in a much clearer way, including how this benefits students.

The guide outlines suggested approaches for universities to more proactively present information on income and spending, and includes:

  • A guide of what to cover in a ‘value for money statement’
  • Areas to consider when presenting how income is used ; from explaining how non-teaching spend adds value for students , to being transparent about the financial risks and challenges facing the sector
  • Ideas for engaging with students to ensure information is communicated as effectively as possible, such as sharing information on student-facing channels across campus; in teaching rooms or laboratories, on digital screens and prominently on websites, or in prospectuses and welcome packs
  • Best practice examples from around the higher education sector and a simple checklist to follow to achieve the greatest impact

Professor David Phoenix OBE, Chair of Universities UK’s Value for Money Advisory group and Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University, called on all universities to follow the guidelines:

“Students and parents rightly want to know how their fees – and other income – is spent by universities, and for this to be presented in a way that is easy to understand, and easy to find.

“While there are good examples of universities doing this, we know there is room for improvement and particularly in making this more consistent. 

“A lack of easily accessible information on university spending has led to a misperception that fees are solely spent on direct costs of teaching and this can influence student perceptions of value for money. It is time there was better information and clearer explanations of how university spending ultimately benefits students.”

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

“This is a great and overdue initiative. We have been calling for many years for students to receive more information about where their fees go, often in the face of considerable opposition.

“Whether or not people like the high-fee system that we have in England and Wales, it is inevitable that it would lead to much louder demands for better information.

“There are lots of reasons why it is worth giving students what they want – most importantly, it reminds students that their fees go on a wide range of university activities including counselling, the library and social areas, and not just teaching.

“It will of course lead to some challenging questions about cross-subsidies but even this is nothing to fear. Most students choose to study in large multi-faculty research-active institutions for good reasons. Where cross-subsidies are hard to justify, they will now be exposed to more evidence-based debate.”

Universities UK will review progress on the presentation of information on income and spending to students in a year’s time.

Students, university finance directors and other university staff fed into the creation of the new framework. UUK held workshops in Keele, Durham, Cumbria, Nottingham and London. A number of other university stakeholders were consulted along with the OfS, HESA and HESPA.

* Two of HEPI’s reports on this issue are cited in the new Universities UK guide:

The HEPI / Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey (2019) – specific figures were: 76% of students surveyed in England, 72% in Wales, 73% in Northern Ireland and 67% in Scotland reported that their university does not provide enough information on university spending.

Where do student fees really go? Following the pound (2018) What do I get? Ten essays on student fees, student engagement and student choice (2015)

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