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Leading Article: Counting the hours

Today's report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) returns to the issue of how much formal contact time students have with academic staff in universities and finds that there has been little change. Students on average get a meagre 14.5 hours of lectures, seminars and lab sessions a week compared with 14.3 in 2007. Some universities are taking action. Lancaster and the LSE, for example, have given their undergraduates a pledge about how much contact time they can expect, and Manchester is reviewing its practice.

But the bodies that represent universities, the various mission groups such as the Russell Group and the 94 Group, and the umbrella group, Universities UK, have adopted a defensive position, arguing that no problems exist. Hepi is, however, demonstrating that there may be problems. It matters to students if they get little support from academics and if they are taught too frequently by postgraduates. It matters to the United Kingdom if its universities' reputations suffer. Last week a new piece of research published by the Higher Education Funding Council found that British students study for fewer hours a week and have less expected of them than their European counterparts. It is irresponsible to pretend that everything is all right.