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What the £9,000 fee gets you: less teaching time


University lecturers devote less time to teaching now their students are paying £9,000 a year for courses than they did when tuition was free, the universities minister, David Willetts, reveals today.

Figures cited in a new report show that academics spent 55 per cent of their time teaching 50 years ago, a figure which has reached 64 per cent in the past – compared with only 40 per cent now, as they devote more time to research, to bring much-needed grants into the universities.

In a pamphlet for the Social Market Foundation published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the  seminal Robbins report on higher  education, Mr Willetts says the  higher-education system has become “so lopsided away from teaching” that it requires “a real cultural” change.

Mr Willetts warns in the new  study, Robbins Revisited, that “the pendulum has swung too far away from teaching”.

The average time spent by students being taught has also dropped from 14.8 hours a week to 12.2 – with more of the teaching taking place in large rooms with up to 100 students.

Meanwhile, figures released by the consumers’ group Which? show the average student in 1963 had to submit one piece of written work a week – but this has now fallen to one a fortnight. In 1963, the majority (61 per cent) received both written comments and oral feedback. Now, 77 per cent receive only written feedback and a grade.

“Parents talk to their student children about their university timetable and query whether they are getting value for money,” Mr Willetts adds. “‘You really only get three hours of lectures a week? How much time do you spend in the lab? What do you mean, you haven’t sat down with any of the professors yet?’ With the advent of higher fees, such questions are  becoming more insistent.”

Mr Willetts says the Government intends to start discussions with universities about their publishing breakdowns of the amount of teaching, feedback and discussion time.

He also reveals there will be a major increase in the number of young  people eligible to go to university within the next two decades, as the compulsory education or training age rises to 18 and the bulge in the birth rate now hitting primary schools works its way through.

Mr Willetts adds that the UK still lags behind the US in the percentage of people entering higher education, either after leaving school or later – 64 per cent compared with 72 per cent.