Universities in ‘dangerous’ era for student expectations

There is “no sign” that students paying up to £9,000 in tuition fees in 2012-13 are receiving more for their money from universities, according to a survey of contact hours, workload and satisfaction.

May 15, 2013

The academic experience of students in English universities: 2013 report, by the Higher Education Policy Institute and consumer group Which?, found only a “very small” increase in contact hours since 2006. 

The report, published today, also found wide variations in the number of total hours – including private study – that students spent working towards a degree at different universities. On average, students are studying for 900 hours a year, far fewer than the 1,200 that the Quality Assurance Agency recommends they should be.

Bahram Bekhradnia, Hepi’s director, said that the sector was entering a “dangerous” period in terms of what students expected from a university education.

“There are greater expectations with students paying more but not a very much greater ability for universities to meet those expectations,” he said.

As the report explains “for the most part universities are no better off, as increased student fees are balanced by reduced government grant”.

He said that the sector and the government should do more to explain to students that they should not expect more for their money, as the new tuition fees are simply making up for lost state funding.

The report also found that there has been a “sharp increase” in the number of students who did not feel their courses had been good value for money.

Of the UK and EU students who paid less than £8,000 a year most of whom started their courses before the rise in fees – 23 per cent felt that their course had been either “poor” or “very poor” value for money.

But among students paying higher fees this figure was 30 per cent. One in ten of this group felt their course was “very poor” value for money.

Nonetheless, 88 per cent of students remain “fairly” or “very” satisfied with their course, according to figures obtained from the National Student Survey.

This figure rose to 91 per cent in the research-intensive Russell Group, but fell to 84 per cent for post-92 institutions.

In a statement, Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said: “Millions of pounds have been invested in new books and labs, improved lecture theatres, innovative teaching, more professional careers services and smaller class sizes.

“However, the independent learning required at university is a very different experience from learning at school, so it is important we take the debate away from the narrow confines of contact hours.”


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Reader's comments (5)

Nonetheless, 88 per cent of students remain “fairly” or “very” satisfied with their course, according to figures obtained from the National Student Survey. Useful to illuminate this and similar detail?

If the same students had gone to university 10 years ago, the government would be paying the £9k per annum for their course instead of them. The only difference is not about fees, it's about increasing casualisation, redundancies and workload.

And where are those fees going? Not towards reducing casualisation, redundancies or workload, but rather, towards hiring and providing fat salary increases to more and more managers.

Technical-type universities operating the regular credit scheme are guided by the 10 hours per credit of teaching/contact and coursework time ie.1200hrs for the typical 120credits at each level of a degree course. These are normal expectations for awards accedited by the commerce and industry related professional bodies and institutes. Comparison of data with other types of university, such as the liberal arts or sciences or research intensive, would be interesting, especially if evaluated for added educational value (were that indeed possible). Presumably these practices are likely to be only the minimum in an emerging fees market and funded Higher Apprenticeships.

The HEPI report, along with many others on this topic, is rather misleading. Its summary refers to the trebling of fees and questions the lack of improvement in the 'service' received by students. It is only the contribution to the fees made by the student that has increased and not the overall income per student. Government funding (via HEFCE recurrent teaching grants) to Universities is on a steep decline. As a result, a significant number of Universities have been reported to be at risk of financial failure. Are universities currently operating on an increased teaching budget? - I think not.

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