Students bare their teeth over contact time

Students’ unhappiness with the number of contact hours they get at university has been detailed in a new report

November 18, 2013

With some students receiving as little as two hours a week of contact time, many undergraduates feel they receive poor “value for money” for their tuition fees, according to a study on student perceptions by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Analysing submissions from student representatives, which helped to guide the 14 institutional reviews conducted in 2011-12 – the final year before the tuition fee cap rose to £9,000 – the QAA found dissatisfaction with the amount of student contact hours, particularly for those studying arts and social science subjects.

The study, titled What students think of their higher education: Analysis of student written submissions to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education 2011-12, noticed a “consumerist approach to education which focused on value for money” among the student submissions, which came from four research-intensive, two teaching-intensive and eight specialist higher education institutions.

“Students applied a simple algorithm to calculate this: £3,000 divided by the number of tutor contact hours,” says the study, which was published on 15 November.

One joint arts students remarked that “£3,000 is a lot of money to spend on four hours of contact time a week”, while a textiles student complained: “Two hours contact time per week. £3,000. You work it out.”

“Why does my course cost the same as chemistry or medicine, when I use no resources, except the libraries and have only six hours contact time per week?” asks a politics student quoted in the report.

While the students’ experiences represented by the 14 submissions – mostly penned by student unions and other representative bodies – are specific to their institutions and “therefore cannot be generalized” across the sector, “they are likely to be informative in indicating what matters to students”, the study says.

Concerns about the content and timeliness of feedback on student work were also raised at several universities, the report says.

The standard of teaching was praised, but there are also concerns over “ineffective lecturers”, while “relocation and institutional mergers had a detrimental effect on the quality of teaching”, according to one submission.

“Students are quite clear about what they expect, and have a well developed understanding of the total learning experience offered by higher education providers,” said Elizabeth Halford, the QAA’s head of research, information and enquiry.

Although the comments received were “wide-ranging”, “some clear themes” had emerged, she added.

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