Students are paying more for university - but not getting more

 

University tuition fees have risen nine-fold in the past six years, but students are only getting 20 minutes extra a week with lecturers as a result, according to new research.

The study raises fresh questions about standards, revealing that on average an undergraduate at an English university spends about 900 hours a year on their studies, around 300 hours less than recommended by the university watchdog.

Studying for a degree at an English university is still "more like a part-time than a full-time job", according to the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), which co-authored the report.

The study also highlights stark differences between institutions and between courses in the amount of time students spend with lecturers, and suggests that some undergraduates are studying for less than half the hours of their peers.

The 2013 Student Academic Experience survey, produced by HEPI and Which?, questioned thousands of students at UK universities for their views of their courses.

The findings show that the total student workload - both time spent in lectures and private study - now averages about 30 hours a week, equivalent to around 900 hours for each 29-week academic year.

This is around 25 per cent less than the 1,200 hours suggested by the Quality Assurance Agency, the study says.

HEPI's report on the survey says: "In our previous report we commented that study at an English university was more like a part-time than a full-time job, and so it has proved again."

The survey also shows that since the first HEPI Academic Experience survey was conducted in 2006, just before tuition fees rose from £1,000 to £3,000, the amount of "contact hours" - time spent with academics in lecturers and seminars - has risen by just 20 minutes a week.

During this same period, fees have risen nine-fold from £1,000 a year to a maximum of £9,000 a year at English universities.

Students are getting just eight minutes extra with lecturers compared to 2007, when fees were £3,000 a year.

HEPI's report on the survey says: "There is no sign that as students pay more they are receiving more for their money, and that is reflected in a sharp increase in the proportion of students who feel that they are not receiving good value for money."

Around three in 10 first-year students at English universities, the first group to face fees of up to £9,000, say that they do not think their course offers value for money, the survey found.

The survey does reveal that students generally believe that they are putting more effort into their studies, spending 14 hours and eight minutes on average on private study, over an hour more than in 2006.

The survey shows wide differences in the amount of time students spend working towards their degree.

Undergraduates at some universities are studying for around 20 hours a week in some subjects, and others are working more than double that.

HEPI's report on the survey says it is "disquieting" that different universities can make varying demands of their students in the same subject, and raises questions about comparing standards in different universities.

The issue should be seriously addressed, according to HEPI.

It said: "If it becomes known that is is 'easier' to obtain a qualification in one university than another, then that will in due course damage the reputation of that university, but it will also have an impact on the reputation of the entire UK higher education system."

The survey shows that different subjects can have different amounts of "contact time". For example, students taking science-based degrees are likely to spend more time in the laboratory with academics, while arts students could spend more time on private study.

But the results also reveal differences across each subject.

At one university, medical students were spending an average of 32.7 hours a week studying, while those at another were working for 49.8 hours.

In maths and computer sciences, the amount of time a student spent studying ranged from 23.1 hours a week to 44 hours.

HEPI director Bahram Bekhradnia said: "There is an information point here. We do think students need information about how much contact they're getting and why they're getting it. There may be an answer to why you're only getting three or four hours of contact a week, but I think that needs to be clearer to students."

He said what was more "interesting and disturbing" was the differences between study hours within subjects.

"Although the average amount of study for a student taking law is about 30 hours a week, there are some students that are doing just over 20, and some that are doing getting on for 50 hours a week," Mr Bekhradnia said.

"This does raise profound questions about relative standards, what's going on here? Can we claim that a student in one university that does half as much work to get a degree as a student in another university - what does it say about those establishments, is it plausible that they've achieved the same outcomes by the end of their studying?"

While there may be plausible explanations, this needs to be investigated, he added.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "With an increasingly competitive higher education sector, and soaring tuition fees, it has never been more important for prospective students to get as much information as possible to help them make the right choice.

"There must be an investigation into the huge variations in the academic experience that we have revealed, and more transparency to ensure students can get the information they need."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "We want the best possible match between students and institutions. People must be able to make informed decisions about what and where to study.

"That's why we introduced the key information set, which compares a range of data at course level on costs satisfaction and outcomes. Institutions should explain to prospective students how their course will be delivered in order to help them make the right decisions."

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK, said: "The increase in fees means that students are clearly demanding more from their universities. But it is misleading to make a crude assumption that time spent in lectures and seminars can be equated with university course quality. UK university education places an important focus on supporting independent study which will vary from course to course and between individual institutions.

"Tuition fees also pay for far more than contact time. They cover all manner of services including student support facilities, employment advice and training, library services and clubs."

She added that it is essential that students understand what their university offers, and insisted that institutions are working hard to provide prospective students with more information.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "It is perhaps not surprising that some students and their parents expect more bang for their increased buck, following the rise in university fees. Frustratingly, despite the hike in fees, universities are not any better off after the Government slashed state support for higher education.

"Staff and universities simply cannot do more for less and if we are to maintain a world-class university system, producing satisfied graduates ready to tackle the challenges of the future, then we have to accept that costs money. Higher education remains something this country can do well, but it needs proper investment."

Dr Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading universities including Oxford and Cambridge said: "Students are right to expect value for money - that's why our leading universities place so much emphasis on high-quality teaching and learning and investing in cutting-edge facilities.

"Millions of pounds have been invested in new books and labs, improved lecture theatres, innovative teaching, more professional careers services and smaller class sizes.

"However, the independent learning required at university is a very different experience from learning at school, so it is important we take the debate away from the narrow confines of contact hours.

"The workload is rightly demanding at Russell Group universities; students are supported through their studies in different ways and learn in ways that are hard to quantify."

PA

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software Developer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing software co...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate / Digital Account Exe...

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to join...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick