Media studies courses 'need less work than science and medicine'

It has sparked fierce debate on university campuses for decades: which degree subjects require the most work? But now researchers have conclusively proved what many have suspected for years - students of media studies, business and social studies do much less work than other undergraduates.

The findings prompted researchers to question the degree classification system, arguing that it was not fair for students to graduate with identical degrees, such as a 2:1, when some had expended much more effort than others because of their choice of degree subject and university.

"The extent of the differences in student workload is remarkable and raises important policy questions," the report concluded. "In particular it raises questions about what it means to have a degree from an English university, if a degree can apparently be obtained with such very different levels of effort."

Scientists, engineers and medics spend all day in the laboratory while historians and philosophers have less than half the number of lectures of an engineer.

Arts and humanities students have always argued that they make up for their lack of lectures by putting in long hours in the library doing private study. However, researchers from the Higher Education Policy Institute found that this is not usually true. Overall, taking into account both teaching and private study, the humanities and social sciences required less effort than other subjects.

Students of mass communications, which includes media studies, get away with an average of less than 20 hours of total study a week, with business studies undergraduates putting in only slightly more work.

By contrast, students of medicine and dentistry spend an average of 35.2 hours a week studying, followed by trainee vets, who work 33.2 hours a week.

The variation between the most and least intense courses was stark. At the University of Sunderland, students of mass communications did just 15.9 hours of study a week. Meanwhile students of medicine and dentistry at the University of East Anglia put in an average of 45.1 hours of work a week.

The study found that even within a subject there could be large differences between institutions. In languages, for example, the workload ranged from 36.7 hours at Oxford to just 16 hours at Nottingham Trent University.

But surprisingly, overall the study found few differences between the old and the new universities. If anything, the new universities made more provision, and in smaller classes, than the old, and were less likely to use graduate students as teachers.

The study questioned 15,000 students about their workloads. Students were asked not only how many hours were scheduled, but how many lectures or tutorials they attended. If they are to be believed, students attended on average 92 per cent of scheduled tuition. But there were also marked differences between subjects: in computer science 13 per cent of lectures were missed, compared to just 2 per cent in education.

How subjects compare

Average hours worked per week (including lectures and private study)


Medicine and dentistry: 35.2

Veterinary sciences: 33.2

Architecture: 31.8

Medicine-related subjects, eg, pharmacy: 31.2

Engineering: 29.9


Mass communications (including media studies) 19.9

Business studies: 21.7

Social studies: 22.8

Historical and philosophical studies: 23.3

Languages: 23.3