Annual university tuition fees have trebled from £3,000 to £9,000 and students are under pressure to choose the right course. We’ve found that variations in student workload make it hard for them to compare.
Produced jointly by Which? and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), the 2013 Student Academic Survey analysed the experiences of 26,000 full-time undergraduates. The survey found considerable variation in students’ academic experience, even within the same subjects.
While some students’ total workloads (including scheduled teaching plus private study) were less than 20 hours per week, others were working for more than 40. The average workload is 30 hours a week – 25% less than official guidelines – raising questions over standards and whether students are being pushed hard enough.
Since the first HEPI Student Academic Experience survey in 2006, student contact hours have risen by only 20 minutes per week to an average of 14 hours across all institutions. Over the same period there has been a nine-fold increase in tuition fees at English institutions.
How much teaching time is enough?
There are also variations in the amount and type of contact students receive. For instance, someone studying mathematics could expect to receive anywhere between 13-22 hours per week in scheduled teaching. And within this, the amount of small-group teaching could also vary considerably.
Students getting up to nine hours of contact per week were three times more likely to say they don’t think their course offers value for money (30%), compared to those receiving between 15-24 hours per week (10%). One third of students said that they may have chosen a different course if they knew then what they do now.
This makes it all the more important that prospective students can access accurate information on what they can expect to receive from their academic experience, particularly because expectations have an impact on satisfaction.
Lending students a helping hand
We’ve created a ‘contact hours comparison’ tool on our Which? University website, enabling students to compare student contact hours and class sizes across different universities and subjects.
In a snapshot study, we found that only two out of 20 institutions’ websites provided information on the total number of contact hours per week and, even then, it wasn’t broken down by lectures and tutorials. Universities should make sure they are making this information easily accessible.
One fifth of the students we surveyed said that information provided by universities was vague and one in ten said it was misleading. So, we also think that the government should make it compulsory for this information to be provided in an easy-to-compare format via the Key Information Set.
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.
As a current student or recent graduate, what is or was your academic experience like at uni? If you’re helping to support someone through uni – do you think students are getting value for money? If you work in the sector, do you think universities need to make more teaching information available?
Do you think today's university degrees are good value for money?
No (68%, 260 Votes)
I'm not sure (19%, 73 Votes)
Yes (12%, 47 Votes)
Total Voters: 380