Finding the Best Value Universities | Top Universities

Finding the Best Value Universities

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Staff Writer

Updated Mar 05, 2016



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How can you make sure your university choice provides good value for your student fees? Here, suggests five of the most important factors to consider.

Universities in the US and the UK dominate the top tier of university league tables. But in both of these countries, there is growing concern over the high price tag placed on higher education.

As a result, universities are now under pressure, not only to be the best, but to provide the best value for money for students.

This, unfortunately, is not an easy thing to measure. However, there are various ways to compare university courses, in order to decide which will give you the highest return on investment.

1. Return on investment

Return on investment (ROI) refers to the salary level you can expect, as a result of investing in the degree.

Data may not always be available for every university, but a growing number of reports are being published in this field.

If you’re looking at universities in the US, you could check out Bloomberg Businessweek’s university league table of the US colleges with the best ROI.

For universities in the UK, the Parthenon Group has published a ranking of the top 30 best value universities, based on graduates’ average salaries.

2. Contact time

In the UK, critics of rising tuition fees for domestic students, have pointed out that since fees increased from UK£1,000 to £3,000 per year (soon to be £9,000), students have not benefitted from more contact time with teaching staff.

This is based on a survey conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), which also found that students with the least number of timetabled classes per week, were the most likely to be unhappy with the quality of their course.

Of course, it’s not just about the number of lectures you can attend; class size can also make a big difference.

So, as well as finding out how many hours of teaching time you’ll get for your money, you may also want to consider whether this will include any one-on-one – or at least small-group – teaching.

3. Campus facilities

In response to the HEPI report, Universities UK – which represents the universities in the UK – said that part of the additional money received in fees had gone towards improving campus facilities, such as libraries and IT provision.

The quality of campus facilities is certainly another factor to consider.

If you can, visit the university campus and explore as much of it as possible: libraries, labs, lecture theatres, student dorms, sports and recreation facilities.

The quality of the learning environment will make a big difference to your university experience, and could even have an impact on the level of degree you graduate with.

That said, don’t be dazzled by impressive facilities if they’re not backed up by high-quality teaching!

4. Cost of living

Remember that tuition fees are not the only cost to consider. You’ll also (probably) be paying for accommodation, course supplies, food, transport and other living expenses.

The cost of living can vary significantly between countries, and also within the same country. For example, accommodation rates in London are higher than most other places in the UK.

Many universities publish advice about living costs on their websites, giving a rough estimate of how much you should budget for.

You could also consult international surveys such as Mercer's Cost of Living report, or (a little more light-hearted), the Economist's Big Mac Index.

5. Course length

In countries like the US, the standard length of time for an undergraduate degree is at least four years, while in nations such as the UK and Australia, three years is the norm for most subjects.

Obviously, if you’re paying per-year or per-semester, completing your degree more quickly could save you a significant amount – in both fees and living expenses.

This is the idea behind the fast-track degrees being offered by some universities, which allow students to graduate in as little as two years.

Bear in mind, however, that fast-track degrees are not for everyone. As you’d expect, they require students to work more intensively, and this can mean missing out in other ways.

Judging the best value university is never going to be an exact science, and ultimately depends on individual preferences and priorities.

But hopefully these five starting points will help you draw up your own university league table, and decide what ‘ROI’ means for you.