Bath University students are demanding a 20 per cent reduction in fees to compensate for a 20 per cent cut in lecture time.
The university has asked all departments to submit plans for cutting lecture time by February 10. A memo from the university executive states:
"As the university has expanded its student numbers it has been increasingly difficult to timetable available general teaching area space in an educationally or socially acceptable manner."
The memo says that without significant changes the 2003-04 timetable will not work. One proposal is to cut lectures from 50 minutes to 40 minutes. Departments have also been told that any unit that had recruited fewer than ten students in either of the past two years would not be timetabled for lecture space.
The university wants to develop "self-directed learning opportunities" for students, such as putting more lectures on the web.
Student numbers at Bath have increased from about 9,000 in 1999 to more than 11,000 in 2002. Vice-chancellor Glynis Breakwell has made it clear that the university needs to expand further if it is to survive. The university is expected to bid for an extra 500 students on its Bath campus in 2003-04.
Dale Lane, academic affairs officer at the student union, said: "The union has received more than 40 emails from students registering concern at the proposed changes. Many have called for a compensatory cut in fees."
One student said: "If we're having our lecture time cut down by 20 per cent is there any way we can reclaim 20 per cent of our tuition fees? It seems only fair."
Another wrote: "As a psychology student, I have only 12 hours of lectures a week as it is... E-learning is no substitute for face-to-face learning, it is harder to make contact with other course members and thus destroys social interaction with peers."
Mr Lane said that departments and students had been given very little notice about the proposed changes. "Programmes are carefully put together and the idea that you can cut lecture time by a fifth overnight is wrong," he said. "Students frequently have to sit on the floor during lectures as it is."
The university's problems have been compounded by the discovery of asbestos in a key teaching building, which has consequently been shut.
No one was available at Bath for comment this week. But Ian Jamieson, pro vice-chancellor in charge of learning and teaching, told The Bath Chronicle : "We do not currently use the space we have as well as we should do. Course tutors will book a lecture room for the whole 12 weeks of their course even though they know that they will not use it all of the time.
"We are trying to encourage staff to make more efficient use of teaching areas, as well as making better use of technology to make lessons more exciting. Emptying your head in front of 200 students is not particularly exciting or efficient when you could simply put the lecture on the web."