Manchester social science contact time halved since 1988, report shows

V-c says deterioration highlighted by figures is 'undeniable'. Rebecca Attwood reports

April 24, 2008

Social science students at the University of Manchester have half as much contact time as students studying there 20 years ago.

Politics students studying at Manchester in 1988 had an average of 200 hours a year in lectures and tutorials, compared with just 86-106 hours today.

Social anthropology students have seen contact hours fall from 220 hours to 120-160 hours over two decades.

A student newspaper obtained the figures using the Freedom of Information Act.

Dominic Koole, editor of Student Direct, said the paper was responding to a widespread suspicion by students that teaching had been cut back dramatically in recent years.

The figures had "sent shock waves through the university", he said. "If this university is truly dedicated to becoming one of the best in the world, it needs to reverse this trend, not just stop the decline."

Lizzie Walker, 22, a PPE student, told Times Higher Education: "My economics seminars have 20 students in them and politics have 15. There is no individual learning, which is what tutorials are supposed to be about."

Ms Walker said: "I know university is about independent learning, but you need to have enough of a basis there to be able to do that. I started university before top-up fees came in, but students who are paying more must wonder where their money is going."

Alan Gilbert, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester, said that while he might question some of the detail and interpretation in the Student Direct article, the message it contained was "clear, important and - in broad terms - undeniable".

He said: "As I have made clear in my own statements and articles in Times Higher Education over recent months, this downward trend in teaching hours has occurred over the past 20 years in almost all British universities.

"The simple fact is that decades of diminishing per capita investment in undergraduate learning in the UK is having the slow, inevitable consequences for the quality of student learning that were bound to develop in a system that has gone on doing the best it can, by more or less traditional means, while class sizes burgeon and student-to-staff ratios deteriorate," said Professor Gilbert.

He said the university had recently undertaken a review of undergraduate education, and was proceeding "to make quite radical changes". "We are determined to re-personalise the student learning experience, and provide all students with the kind of one-to-one learning that has become increasingly notable by its absence," he said.

As Times Higher Education went to press, a student campaign group at Manchester calling itself Reclaim the University announced plans by more than 200 students and staff to occupy a university building in opposition to cuts in staff and services on campus.

See next week's feature on teaching contact hours.

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