£21,600 - the price of a 'private' degree

 

WHILE students worry about the growing costs of life on the campus, those at Britain's only private university are facing fees of nearly £11,000 a year. And many are glad to pay.

The University of Buckingham is the only privately funded degree-awarding institution in Britain and has the enthusiastic support, not only of its administrators, but of students willing to find the £21,600 tuition fee for a two-year course.

With the erosion of state funding for universities in recent years, and young people resigned to paying their way through college, many are prepared to face the high fees to benefit from Buckingham's alternative course structure and wealth of teaching resources.

The private university was founded in 1973 to create a new and independent academic environment built on the model of successful privately financed American institutions such as Stamford and Harvard. The emphasis is on hard work, with two-year degree courses and an academic year split into four terms with shorter holidays.

Faye Geoghegan, 27, was immediately drawn to the law course at Buckingham when she was considering going to university as a mature student.

She had tired of working as a project co-ordinator for kitchen appliance manufacturer Whirlpool UK, and sold her home in Caterham, Surrey, to fulfil her academic dream.

She says: 'I definitely preferred the idea of getting a degree qualification in just two years. I didn't want to be out of the workplace any longer than necessary, but I still wanted to lead as complete a student life as I could.'

About one-third of the students at Buckingham are over 25 and Faye thought this would make the return to study easier.

She adds: 'There are only 725 students there, so it's really easy to get to know people. There are also students of many nationalities, which makes for a really cosmopolitan crowd.'

Almost two-thirds of Buckingham's students are from overseas, many attracted by the opportunity for accelerated learning and the high level of personal attention.

The staff/student ratio is on a par with Oxbridge at 1:10 compared with an average 1:17 at many state-funded universities. Such personalised teaching is expensive, which is why British and EU students can expect to pay the £21,600 fees for their course. But scholarships are available to British and international students, and those living or educated in Buckinghamshire and neighbouring counties.

Faye says: 'I've been granted a mature student's scholarship by the university and I was also lucky to get free accommodation in my first year, which really helped financially.'

The university says that by saving the money that would be spent on a third year of living costs, as well as having scholarships and grants for tuition fees through the Student Loans Company, two years at Buckingham can cost almost the same as three at a public university.

Chris Wilkes, Buckingham's finance director, says: 'People used to think that this university was unaffordable. But since the abolition of maintenance grants and the introduction of tuition fees, that is no longer the case.'

But for all the financial help that Faye gets, she still hasn't managed to avoid debt. 'I have taken out student loans and so have most of my friends,' she says. 'And the demands of the course make part-time work a near impossibility. 'But, for all the hard work - and there's plenty of it - I still wouldn't have chosen to be anywhere else.'