UK students study for fewer hours per week than their European counterparts and may face "lesser requirements", new research has found.
According to a survey of 70,000 graduates in 11 European countries, students in the UK spend 30 hours a week in classes and private study - the lowest figure after the Czech Republic.
This compares with the 42 hours a week clocked up by students in France, and the 39 hours seen in Switzerland.
Students from the UK were also the most likely to report that they had done extra work over and above what was required to pass their degree, says the study by the Centre for Higher Education Research and Information (Cheri) at The Open University.
The report was commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England after a survey published in 2007 by the Higher Education Policy Institute suggested that England's undergraduate degrees were the least burdensome in Europe.
The Hepi study found that undergraduate students at English universities received an average of 14 hours of scheduled tuition each week and worked for 26 hours a week when teaching hours were added to private study - findings that are broadly similar to Cheri's.
"While there is considerable variation in the hours students devote to their studies ... the research evidence supports the conclusion that UK students study for fewer hours each week during term-time compared with their counterparts in other European countries," the Cheri report says.
"This appears to be the case whether one takes a narrow definition of study hours in terms of teaching contact, or a broader one based on all study-related activities."
However, the report acknowledges that when it comes to the amount students learn, "time spent" may not be the crucial factor.
Need for attainment
Cheri also found that UK students appeared to be among the most highly motivated in Europe, with 64 per cent saying that they strived to gain the highest possible marks, and 52 per cent claiming that they did more work than was required to pass their course.
"It seems that it is more important to UK students to 'do well' than it is to students in some other places ...
"However, when put alongside the lower student hours of UK students, this might suggest that they face somewhat lesser requirements from their universities than students in other countries," the report states.
UK students were among the least likely to have been on work placements, with only 32 per cent spending time in the workplace during their course, compared with 87 per cent of students in the Netherlands and 84 per cent in France.
The study found some evidence that UK graduates felt less prepared for jobs when they left university than those studying overseas, but also that British students were less dependent on their teachers during their studies.
Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "The report rightly acknowledges that the student experience is not all about reported contact hours.
"We are proud of UK higher education's reputation for emphasising learner autonomy and independence more than other national education systems.
"Higher education providers in the UK are competent guardians of quality and standards."
Hepi is due to launch an update of its 2006 and 2007 surveys on contact and study hours at a conference at the Royal Society in London on 6 May.