Huge disparity in hours raises question of value

November 2, 2006

A Hepi survey of students' experiences and expectations in the UK finds wide variation in what is offered by different institutions. Anthea Lipsett reports.

Huge variations in the number of hours academics in different disciplines are expected to teach have been set out this week for the first time in a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute.

The extent of the differences shocked the researchers, with some disciplines providing students with eight hours a week compared with more than 21 hours in other subjects.

Old universities provided more teaching hours, on average, than their post-1992 counterparts, with an average of 13.7 a week, compared with 13.3.

New universities tended to have smaller class sizes and were more likely to use academics to teach, as opposed to postgraduate students and postdoctoral staff, which was more common in old universities.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of Hepi and co-author of the report, said:

"Research in universities is assessed but teaching is left to its own devices. This shines a light into the heart of education that hasn't been scrutinised as much as research."

Students in medicine and dentistry have the largest number of contact hours a week, 21.4 hours in pre-92 universities and 20.2 hours in new universities.

Veterinary sciences and agriculture and related subjects are close behind with 21.3 hours in old universities and 19.8 in new universities. Subjects allied to medicine and engineering and technology teach 19.3 hours overall.

The figures for teaching hours in the physical sciences (16.2 hours), mathematical sciences (15.9 hours), architecture, building and planning (15.9 hours) and computer science (15.5 hours) are all comparable.

Alice Rogers, head of the mathematics department at King's College London, said: "It's very hard to learn maths by reading a book about it. You need to see the maths being done with an academic waving their arms and working out the maths in front of you."

At the other end of the scale are subjects including history and philosophical studies (8 taught hours in old and 8.8 hours in new universities), and social studies (10.7 hours in old and 11.3 hours in new universities).

Academics in the fields of mass communication and documentation teach 11.4 hours a week.

The survey questioned 23,000 students and received 15,000 replies. It was undertaken by Hepi before the introduction of top-up tuition fees of Pounds 3,000 this year.

Students want to see the extra money from their higher tuition fees spent on reducing the size of classes and lectures.

"Investment in academic teaching remains critical to improving further what are very strong levels of satisfaction," the Hepi report warns.

The report spells out what students think of the teaching they receive and sets out the combination of teaching time and personal study required to obtain degrees from different courses at different institutions.

This can differ from as much as 44.7 hours of teaching and private study a week in physical sciences at Cambridge University to 18.9 hours at the University of Central Lancashire.

Female students are more diligent than their male peers, doing 13.9 hours of private study each week and missing only 7 per cent of their scheduled teaching hours.

Male students do 12 hours of private study a week and miss 10 per cent of their taught hours.

The differences highlighted in the report between the workload involved in getting degrees in different subjects raises questions about the value of degrees from different institutions.

For instance, students of physical sciences subjects at Bath University do 28.6 hours a week of taught and private study and 52.1 per cent get a 2:1 or a first. Plymouth University students do 19.9 hours a week in the physical sciences and 60.9 per cent get a 2:1 or a first.

In education, Durham students spend 35.8 hours a week with 53.9 per cent getting a first or 2:1, whereas Liverpool Hope University students do 24.3 hours and 55.8 per cent get a first or 2:1.

"It's clear you can get a degree and a good chance of a 2:1 or first with very different amounts of effort in different institutions," Mr Bekhradnia said.

This is likely to be a key question in the Burgess review of degree classification when the latest consultation closes on Friday.

anthea.lipsett@thes.co.uk </a>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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