A quarter of students expect more contact time

Almost one-quarter of students in the UK receive less lecture time than they thought they would get before they started university, a new report has revealed.

March 21, 2012

The results are among those from a National Union of Students survey of more than 5,000 people commissioned by the Quality Assurance Agency.

According to the research on independent learning and contact hours, students spend an average of 19.5 hours a week on independent study, and 84 per cent say that contact time with lecturers directly improves the quality of their learning.

But although 68 per cent of students said they were happy with the amount of lecture time on their course, 23.5 per cent received less than they had expected.

Meanwhile, 25.8 per cent of those surveyed expressed disappointment at the amount of interactive teaching – such as tutorials and seminars – that they received.

The QAA research is part of a 12-month project with the NUS that has already resulted in the publication of another report on students’ experiences of teaching and learning.

Remaining reports will focus on science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, and on the experience for first-year students.

Laura Bellingham, the QAA’s assistant director of research, information and enquiry, said students’ increasing focus on contact time was part of the growing interest in indicators of quality and “value for money”.

But she cautioned that although the quantification of contact hours provided a convenient measure, the amount of time spent with a tutor was not in itself a reliable indicator of the quality of the learning experience or of its value.

“While students have a right to be properly directed and supported in their studies, higher education is not school,” she said.

“Independent learning is central to higher-level learning, irrespective of the subject, provider or mode of study.”

Usman Ali, NUS vice-president for higher education, said that students were making it clear that simply listing a number of contact hours in a prospectus “isn’t enough” to give a full picture of the learning experience. “Lectures, seminars, tutorials and independent study are all important parts of a degree, but quality is far more important than quantity.”

Meanwhile, Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, questioned some aspects of the survey’s methodology.

“By mixing up postgraduate and undergraduate students, the survey makes it impossible to draw any useful conclusions.

“And in such a survey, the sampling is terribly important and needs to be larger and more rigorous than this to enable safe conclusions to be drawn.”

However, he added, the results were “not far off” those of surveys that Hepi had conducted on the issue in 2006 and 2007. Hepi will publish its own update to this research “shortly”, he said.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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