English university students working harder since introduction of top-up fees


Students at English universities are working harder since the introduction of top-up fees - but have got little else from universities, according to a report out today.

Also, they still do not have to put in as many hours as their counterparts in Europe and the amount of work they do varies from university to university with those attending the older more established universities putting in longer hours.

The study, by the respected university think-tank the Higher Education Policy Institute, shows how their hours of private study have increased from 13.1 a week in 2006 to 14.4.

Combined with lecture time, they work an average 27.2 hours a week.

In some subjects, for instance, medicine, they studied for the equivalent of a working week  while in others  such as mass communications and documentation it averages 20.1 hours a week.

Even the average, though, still falls far short of the average 34-hour week put in by students of European Union countries.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of HEPI, said the research raised questions about the quality of degrees at different universities.

European countries that were paying for their students to attend courses in England were also questioning the value of a UK  degree.

“What does it say about a UK degree if students can obtain degrees which are held to be comparable while devoting very different amounts of effort to their studies?” he asked.

“It is an uncomfortable question _ as was the finding ... that students in English universities by and large devoted far less effort to their studies than students in most other European countries.”

On the variation between UK universities, the research shows that – on average – students at pre-1992 universities work for 28.6 hours a week whereas those at the post-1992 (former polytechnics) spent 25.9 hours.

The study also concludes that the trebling of fees (from £1,000 to £3,000 a year with the introduction of top-up fees) appears not to have led to any improvements in provision for students,.  Fees are set to triple again to up to £9,000 a year from this September.

“In earlier surveys, they said that their top priority for the use of increased fees should be in improving staffing ratios: and in opposition the Government insisted it would only allow a fee increase if students could see a commensurate improvement in the provision that was made for them. 

“Although students appear to be working harder, that improvement in the provision that is masde for them appears not to have happened.”

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: “The Government claim that by shifting the burden of funding even further from government spending to student borrowing that they have put students at the heart of the system but this survey casts further doubt on that assumption.

“Whether we like it or not students going on to campuses this year will feel like they’re paying more and will have increased expectations to match but there is no evidence that shifting the financial burden to students gives them more power.”

However, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK - the body which represents vice-chancellors, said: “We do not recognise the picture painted by the HEPI survey.

“There is plenty of evidence to show that when universities in England received additional income after the introduction of variable fees in 2006, they invested it in better facilities, more teaching staff, more support and advice for students and other benefits for students.”