What are they paying for?

When the UK government announced that the cap on tuition fees would be raised to £9000/year for students (with some variations across the country), I asked myself, What will the students actually be paying for? I know that at my own university, teaching is important, but not as important as upping research outputs. In addition, there are a myriad of activities that university staff undertake that are not directly related to teaching. There are also the huge overhead costs that have to be paid for (buildings, lights, etc.). All of this is now going to be largely covered by the students.

Every year, the faculty members at the universities in the UK have to fill out approximate time allocation records, estimating the amount of time spent on these various activities. I have managed to access this data for most of the UK institutions (an organisation I belong to got the information through freedom of information requests). I downloaded the %staff costs that are publicly available (percentage of expenditures that are staff related) for all the universities, and found the amount of all the tuition fees that are being charged this year for incoming undergraduates. From that information, I figured out what the students are actually paying for.

The time allocation has been divided into time for teaching, research and other activities. I took these proportions, and multiplied them by the tuition fees paid, and multiplied these three numbers by the percentage of expenditures that are allocated to staffing costs and the amount allocated to overhead (non-staff) costs. This gives me six numbers, the amount students are paying (through tuition) for:

  1. staff teaching time (by the staff’s own calculations)
  2. staff research time
  3. other activities of staff members
  4. university overheads associated with teaching
  5. university overheads associated with research
  6. university overheads associated with other activities.

I have split the data into three summary groups, pre 92, post 92, and Russell Group (RG) universities.


Staff Time Devoted to

University Overheads For

  Teaching Research Other Teaching Research Other
Post ‘92







Pre ‘92














It appears that the Russell Group wins again. The students pay the least for their teaching there, and the business world values their degrees the highest.

Shame about burdening students with the lions share of the UK’s research costs.


2 thoughts on “What are they paying for?

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