Universities aren't working us hard enough, say undergraduates

One in four say they can get away with doing little private study and still get good marks

University students do not believe they are being challenged enough in their studies, according to a new report by the consumer watchdog Which?

Fewer than half of undergraduates believe their academic workload is demanding. Only four in 10 believe their course content stretches them, and fewer than half say seminars are usually worth going to. One in four said they could get away with doing little private study and still get good marks, reports the survey of 4,500 students, entitled A Degree of Value.

Among the graduates surveyed, 18 per cent felt university was poor value for money. They complained of inconsistent teaching quality (53 per cent), a lack of job-seeking support (53 per cent), too few hours of direct contact (47 per cent), and too many cancelled sessions or poor timetabling (45 per cent). Faced with higher fees, 35 per cent said they would be unlikely to go to university now.

Which? said that universities had seen rapid change, but now needed to deliver better value, while the regulatory and complaints system was "no longer fit for purpose".

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: "We are rightly proud of institutions regarded among the best in the world. The next phase for this market should protect that reputation and help students get the best value for money. We want to see better information for prospective students, improved complaints processes and a strong regulator."

When 4,500 students were asked about course management, six in 10 reported changes to their courses, such as location of teaching; one in 10 had experienced an increase in tuition fees either part-way through the year or between years. Of those who complained, six in 10 were unhappy with how it was handled and half felt it was ignored.

Megan Dunn of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: "This report highlights the damaging effects of the market principles imposed on higher education by politicians, and the complacency of the vice chancellors... The market champions failed to realise that students, increasingly treated like supermarket customers, would look to exercise their consumer rights."