Is the term ‘tuition fees’ misleading?

29th November 2018
Clare Bromley
Principal Researcher

Reports from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Public Accounts Committee have recently made headlines through highlighting how student fees are spent, with most publications stating that “less than half” of tuition fees are spent on, well, tuition. As you may imagine, this has invited conjecture from a range of different parties (

Many students are certainly amongst the aggrieved, but they would equally (and quite rightly) be rather upset if they arrived at a university that had crumbling buildings, poor IT infrastructure, a limited careers service, and lacklustre staff. Indeed, without student recruitment and admissions teams, they may have had difficulty getting into their preferred university at all.

We support a huge range of institutions in appointing first-class, senior professional services staff and we are huge proponents of the vital service that they provide to universities. Higher Education is feeling the squeeze financially and a transformational Marketing Director, Academic Registrar or Estates Director will inevitably be able to do ‘more with less’. A talented leader who can galvanise their department will create an ambitious environment that continues to attract talented staff, thereby benefitting existing students and attracting potential ones.

In its coverage, The Guardian pointed to a HEPI survey in which 74% of students stated that they would like to know more about how their fees are spent – but although students might reasonably expect that their eye-watering £9,250 fees should buy £9,250’s worth of teaching, is this realistic?

A significant proportion of universities rely heavily on tuition fees as a major source of their income, and some of this money needs to be directed to other essential services that complete the student experience. The aforementioned HEPI survey also showed that few students want their money to be spent on advertising. However, competition to attract students is fierce and institutions that cannot create critical mass will struggle to keep their balance sheet in the black. As such, using advertising has never been more important.

Perhaps the term ‘tuition fee’ is misleading, but when the money is being spent on vital services that are more often than not at the core of the student experience and outcomes, it is difficult to claim that it is being spent wastefully.

Categories: Education