Determining Fee Levels & Devising a Fee Structure
As noted in Unit 10, there appears to be a global trend towards increasing levels of cost recovery through user charges as part of a wider strategy of ‘cost-sharing’ in relation to public services. Such charges are justified on the basis that it would be unfair to require those who do not avail of such services to shoulder the burden of paying for them. The implication is that such services are optional and that members of the public should have a choice whether or not they wish to make use of them. However, this argument breaks down when the State has a near monopoly on a particular service (for example, elementary education) and where use of the service is not discretionary (as is the case with laws compelling young people to attend school).
Nevertheless, student fees are currently an important source of income for open schools, colleges and universities. Fees are often justified on the basis that paying for a service encourages students to take it seriously. Where students pay a substantial fee for an ODL course, they are less likely to drop out and more inclined to apply themselves to their studies. In addition, those who feel they are ‘buying’ a service tend to complain when it does not live up to their expectations, and such feedback can prove useful in highlighting where improvements are needed in an ODL institution.
In countries where there is a tradition of imposing user charges for education, levying fees for ODL programmes may not be controversial. In others, however, education is widely viewed as a public service that should be provided free of charge. In such circumstances, the process of determining what is an appropriate and acceptable level of fees for those studying at a distance requires careful consideration. This unit introduces some of the issues that may influence decisions on student fees.