Would you charge a medic for the body that they dissect? What about chemists for the stockrooms filled with expensive and rare chemicals that are essential to their labs? Then why is it that it is acceptable to charge humanities students for their books and expect them to foot several hundred pounds on top of their tuition fees each year?
Despite the fact that degrees in the humanities, arts, and social sciences are markedly cheaper to teach and provide resources for, we continue to foot a greater bill for essential materials than our counterparts in the science and technology oriented degrees. This means that on top of our tuition fees we are subject to costs which mean that our financial privilege directly impacts our ability to take part in the classroom. The fact that the university chooses to overlook this shows their willingness to participate in the growing assault on the arts and humanities that has marked academia in recent years. Their selective subsidising of materials essential to degree study reflects an attitude which prioritises some departments whilst forsaking others.
In the arts, humanities and social sciences we already have less than a third of the contact hours our counterparts in science and technology receive, the fact that on top of this we are expected to make up for shortfalls in funding out of our own pockets is a disgrace. Whilst the university’s library is well stocked and wonderfully staffed, it cannot be reasonably relied upon to provide all the relevant and requisite course materials an undergraduate student needs in order to participate in their degree. Why is it that a well-stocked cupboard of chemicals is considered a basic requirement of a teaching building, but to suggest that artists should have free access to canvases, paints and tools is seen as a laughable suggestion? Though the ECA shop provides discounted rates, this is simply not enough.
If you ask any undergraduate student in the arts, humanities, and social sciences at this university they will tell you that the most important needs which they feel are not being met by the university is the provision of adequate study space, the apportioning of significant contact time, and the constant bombardment of hidden costs associated with weighty textbooks. So long as the university fails to make up for this shortcoming by providing the same funding as it does to STEM subjects we will remain in a situation where only financially privileged students are able to make the most of their time at the University of Edinburgh. This takes the shape of paying for extra hours with private tutors, being able to afford living accommodation which can provide the much sought after studio space in arts and design oriented subjects, and being able to afford study materials which total hundreds of pounds on an annual basis.
Education will never be truly accessible until we arrive at a situation where regardless of your area of study you feel that your financial situation will have no implications for your ability to perform at degree level. We are arriving at a crossroads where if we continue then less financially privileged students will increasingly be excluded from university life; already we can see that less wealthy students are forced to live further from university campus because of a lack of affordable housing. If we turn a blind eye to the fact that the selective application of funding and subsidisation, as according to the associated area of study, directly intersects with issues of financial privilege which in turn directly impact on one’s ability to succeed then we risk failing a generation of undergraduates at a critical time in their lives.
Moving forwards it is essential that the university begin to take our demands for appropriate provision of resources seriously. This means cutting back on vanity projects like their worrying obsession with sinking their incredible endowment into superfluous tunnels under Bristo Square. We need to confront structural discrimination directly, with measurable and effective changes to the way we support our students in their studies. If you already agree with funding the sciences, what is this other than a call for parity?
Image credit: Samantha Marx