Students in England ‘have fewer teaching hours than rest-of-UK peers’

But Hepi analysis also suggests there is still ‘a single UK HE system’

April 16, 2020
Source: Getty

English students have fewer scheduled hours and written assignments than their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland despite having the highest fees, according to an analysis by the Higher Education Policy Institute.

The report, which analysed nearly 60,000 responses collected between 2015 and 2019 for the Hepi/Advance HE Student Academic Experience Survey, found that English students had on average 13.4 scheduled hours per week, compared with 14, 14.3 and 14.6 for students in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively.

The analysis, which compared the responses of locally domiciled students in each of the four parts of the UK, found that English students also had fewer hours in class: on average they attended 12 hours per week, in comparison with 13.4 for Northern Ireland.

English students were also least likely to make the same choices about higher education if they could choose again, the analysis found.

The expectation was that students in England would be likely to work “at least as hard, if not a little harder, than students in other parts of the UK”, according to the report. This was because England was the only part of the UK to have high tuition fees – between £9,000 and £9,250 – for the period covered by the data and “high fees are often thought to mean better funded institutions and more demanding students”.

Another perhaps surprising finding was that students in Scotland did not report higher levels of well-being, despite being the only region that does not have tuition fees. 

The proportion of students in support of tuition fee-free education was highest in Scotland, with 37 per cent agreeing with the statement, “the government should pay all the costs and students should pay nothing”, compared with 21 per cent in England, 20 per cent in Wales and 19 per cent in Northern Ireland. However, this is still less than half the Scottish students surveyed.

The survey also showed that Welsh students in Wales were more positive about the teaching they received than those in other parts of the UK: 60 per cent of local students in Wales said that the majority of their teaching staff motivated them to do their best work, compared with England’s 52 per cent, Scotland’s 51 per cent and 53 per cent in Northern Ireland.

The argument that more student choice and extra resources created by high tuition fees leads to better learning and teaching does not necessarily hold true – at least in terms of student perceptions – as Wales’ higher education is often described as under-resourced, according to Hepi’s director, Nick Hillman.

Different funding regimes may not be having the effects that commentators and policymakers expect, he suggested.

Mr Hillman said that notwithstanding the differences the analysis found, overall, students in the four parts of the UK had largely similar attitudes to higher education. “Despite the differing funding regimes, there is still a single UK higher education system, at least in terms of the student experience,” he said.

This would be important as the UK moves out of the transition phase of Brexit, Mr Hillman argued.

On a practical level, decisions about what level of fees each nation charges EU students would affect the other nations, he said. “Also, if you are trying to tell the rest of the world UK higher education is good, it is important to speak with one voice – it’s good to have a UK brand,” Mr Hillman added.

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Reader's comments (1)

A report by HEPI a while back found that the average study time per week in UK for HE was the lowest when compared to other European countries like Germany. And HEPI also commented that the hours were equivalent to part time learning, rather than full time, in accordance to QAA guidelines. This trend has been ongoing for a very long time. HE in the UK has unacceptable low workload for a full time programme and tuition fees paid (in Germany, there is no HE tuition fee and they have higher contact hours per week) - this is fact that has to be addressed. It will not be addressed by listening to some students via NSS complaining about being stressed because they have too much to study and assessments - the fact of the matter is that they don't.