Leader: Class size does matter

October 6, 2006

There is no immutable law that teaching groups must be smaller in higher education than they are in schools. Sir Christopher Ball, a former warden of Keble College, Oxford, argued long ago that established practice should be reversed so that nursery schools were more generously staffed than universities. Still, it comes as a shock to find that some colleges and universities have almost twice as many students per member of staff as the average secondary school.

New teaching technologies may allow universities to stretch staffing levels somewhat further than in years gone by, but students still value personal contact. This is one of the areas in which the new "customer students" are most likely to flex their muscles if top-up fees bring about the changes of attitude that many expect. Last week it was the state of teaching buildings that was causing concern; now staffing levels. Top-up fees may not have caused a revolution in student choice, but they look like having an impact on the student experience that far exceeds their immediate financial value.

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