Graduation Gown Fight Disrobes LSE’s Student Satisfaction Problem

Students argue that the university’s weak response to 1,000-strong petition confirms fears of LSE’s student neglect and profit-maximising priorities.

In the run up to graduations next week, students are being stung with a £45 compulsory graduation gown rental fee. The cost of hire has been raised by the school itself, after their agreement with sole supplier Ede & Ravenscroft to take a £9 cut from each rental price. The effective graduation fee has forced some to change their plans for mid-July. One third-year said they couldn’t afford rent, food, and the unexpectedly high costs: graduation will have to be missed.

Those who have requested bursary funding to cover the hidden cost have been met with a cold response. A representative from the Student Services Centre told one student: “When you accepted your offer at LSE you declared that you could afford to do so financially.” Considering graduation costs weren’t revealed until March, the student argued that this response seems both inadequate and remarkably unhelpful. For an institution with a £60 million income rise in the last financial year, requests for help with hidden costs such as these should not be met with hostility, they argued – or, considering London’s expense, surprise.

But students will be students. Two weeks ago, a petition was posted online. It has since received over 1,000 signatures, the same number which forced the University of Glasgow to abandon its £50 graduation fee last month. Petition organisers met with LSE’s Academic Registrar, Mark Thomson, earlier this week. Thomson was keen to emphasise that the £9 extracted by LSE from gown rental is spent directly on the “costs of the ceremony”. However, given the use of a School theatre to host the graduations, and large numbers of volunteers to staff the ceremony, the students were keen to pinpoint exactly which aspect of the ceremony needed to be funded by student pockets, rather than School budgets. “Catering”, Thomson said. He couldn’t elaborate, but promised to find out by the end of the week. (He didn’t).

For many students, the graduation gown fees are indicative of LSE’s wider attitude to student satisfaction and financial wellbeing. Alongside gowns, the cost of the Student Union’s official graduation hoodies, featuring the names of all graduating students, have been hiked up to £34.95 each – an increase on last year’s for which students got a T-shirt included for the same price.

The Student Union also came under fire recently after a seemingly targeted increase in the prices of water bottles over exam season. The hike appeared to coincide with a spiked demand in order to maximise profits from library-goers. This is not the first claim of disproportionate costs for the student body, and the union has been repeatedly criticised for selling essentials such as water, snacks and fruit at a higher price than local supermarkets.

These persistent issues lend weight to a growing perception of the School as what one student described as a “faceless business.” “I think Amazon cares more about customer satisfaction than LSE does about student satisfaction”, they added. As student satisfaction statistics force the School down league table rankings, the decision to hike up graduation costs seems ill-timed. International student in particular have lambasted the expenses, with one complaining that in the wake of rising international fees, “this just seems like another way to take our money.” “The last thing I’m doing at LSE,” they remarked, “is paying – to leave.”

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