How much? Student society fees soar even as tuition fees bite

The price of membership in student societies across the country is ballooning

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The Independent Online

Freshers keen to get involved in extracurricular activities may find themselves priced out of joining university clubs and societies as membership fees run into the hundreds of pounds.

Among the most expensive universities for sporting societies is Southampton Solent, where a year’s membership of the wheelchair rugby team costs £300. Similarly high are the costs of playing American football (£230 a year) and participating in equestrian sports (£165).

University societies are also becoming unaffordable for many at Exeter, where membership of the men’s rugby club costs £220. Out of this amount, over half goes towards ‘stash’ (kit etc), with the rest covering travel, insurance and membership of the university sports park.

Durham University fresher Catherine Kisanji, who recently joined the Durham Union debating society, expressed concern at the extra costs involved after the membership fee had been paid.

“£55 is definitely more than I expected to join a student union society. However, it's the biggest society at the university and has guest speakers and activities that will benefit my course,” she said.

“The price of some one-off events such as a masquerade ball at £58 for members and £70 for non-members seems very steep at first glance.”

Read more: Why you should take a sport up at university

The disparity between the cost of joining similar societies at different universities is often wide. A mandatory £72 pass to access facilities bumps the price of joining the Leeds performance swimming squad to £142, over five times the £28 membership fee of the University of East London’s swimming club.

At Oxford and Cambridge, it’s the mental rather than the physical exercise that will set students back a small fortune. Life membership of the Cambridge Union Society costs £185 while Oxford’s equivalent costs £236.

Despite discounts for full government maintenance grant holders and those who sign up during freshers’ week, both societies are becoming rapidly less affordable. Over the last five years, the Cambridge Union membership price has risen by over 50 per cent. By comparison, sport at Oxbridge is less of a financial strain. A lucrative sponsorship deal with clothing brand Jack Wills has brought the cost of playing for Cambridge’s university men’s rugby team down to £20.

Other societies, such as rowing clubs, are subsidised by Oxbridge colleges, and are often free for students.

Student Beans editor Oliver Brann said: “Students arrive at university ready to get involved in lots of societies, but what many don't realise is that joining a society often involves a hefty membership fee.

“Societies are a great way to meet new people, learn a new skill or just to have fun, but don't sign up to everything that catches your eye at your Freshers Fair. Think about what you will realistically have time for and avoid wasting money on membership fees to a society that you are not going to go to.”

The increasing cost of joining university societies is set against a bleak backdrop, as Business Secretary Vince Cable told the Lib Dem conference this week that no major political party would be going back to free tuition.