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Hidden course costs increase stress and reinforce the divisions of privilege

By Maia Miller-Lewis, Deputy Online Comment Editor

Before even coming to university, prospective arts, social science and humanities student everywhere have to accept that they are going to spend at the least the next three years continuously reading. Book after book, if you are not willing to turn the pages, there is no point paying for the privilege of being give a pretty piece of paper at the end. But one thinks I certainly didn’t expect when coming to Bristol is that to fulfil my literary obligation, I was going to have to pay out of my own pocket.

There are so many different factors that make paying for course books simply wrong. On a base level, as student, we are paying the university nine thousand, two hundred and fifty pounds a year to give us an education. If the ASS and other university libraries cannot afford to stock an adequate supply of books, or departments cannot choose course material that can be more easily accessed online, I have serious question as to where and on what my money is being spent.

What makes this particular point even more outrageous is that while Philosophy student are fighting over the last copy of Nietzsche, the Geography can afford to subsidise field trips to salubrious destinations, such as Majorca. This is not a slight against Geography students, or any other course that has an included trip. If anything, I applaud them- they picked well. But my argument is that it just does not add up. It is well known that arts and humanities degrees are not as well funded as scienceand engineering degrees, mainly due to the fact that there are so many arts and humanity students floating around campuses up and down the country. But to use this as an excuse for student having to buy their own books is frankly an insincere cop out. Students are given their application offer by the university. Surely as a consequence, the university must knowhow many students they are getting each year and be able to prepare accordingly. It is basic logic. If the institution does not have the funds, space or staff to support the number of students coming in, it should restrain the number of offers it gives.

It is not as if course books are affordable either. With some texts costing well above thirty pounds, the average student may, and I stress may, have the budget to stretch to one text. But it is usually two or three books demanded by a syllabus. Unless students can find cheaper, second-hand versions that will usually have some kind of writing, disfiguring the text, the books are simply too expensive to buy.

Although it used by many as an excuse for why that have not done their essential reading, for those who actually care about their degree, being unable to access texts through no fault of their own can have a significant detrimental impact upon their academic performance and grasp of key concepts and ideas.

In some cases, this impact can snowball to have a further negative effect on student’s mental health. As a high achieving, Russell Group university, not having a core text can feeling of anxiety and depression among student, fearful of falling behind on work and getting left behind by their peers. Furthermore, famous for our relatively privileged student cohort, being unable to afford core texts can inducing feelings of embarrassment and shame, seriously impacting on individual’s wellbeing and self-confidence in an already high-pressured environment.

To me, the fundamentally problem with all of this is that it is premised on the assumption that student at Bristol university can simply afford whatever the university is mandating. Unforgivably, this is not the reality many if not most student live. Squeezed from all angles from high rents, an ill though out maintenance loan system, and the ever-present understanding that when we leave university we will be taking a massive debt along with us, the thought of spending thirty pounds on a book that we more than likely only use for ten weeks is simply too high a price to pay.

Indeed, all this just seems to be another indicator that a university education is becoming ever more bound up in privilege when it should be moving towards meritocratic inclusion.

Featured Image: Epigram / Ed Southgate

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