Counting the hours shows fast-track flaws

March 2, 2017

The UK government has announced plans to alter the Higher Education and Research Bill to allow the creation of two-year “fast-track” degrees (for which institutions could charge higher tuition fees).

One of the best predictors of how much students learn is “time on task”. This is why a key plank of European quality standards is that a bachelor’s programme is 3,600 to 4,500 hours long. Let’s call it 4,000 and do some sums.

No university or subject in the UK has ever achieved average student effort of anything close to 40 hours a week, even when courses last only 72 weeks over three years. On a two-year degree, students would have to study 40 hours a week for 100 weeks out of 104 to be able to put in enough effort. With two semesters a year at their current length, students would have to study more than 80 hours a week. Can Jo Johnson, the minister for universities, add up? And does he, who studied at the university with the fewest class contact hours but the most independent study hours, really believe that increased class contact will enable students to achieve more than 80 hours a week?

In most of Europe, students study more hours each week than those in the UK, they study for more weeks a year, and in many they graduate with a master’s after five years’ study, clocking up at least twice the number of learning hours of UK graduates. Does Johnson care if “two-year” graduates are employable? Oh, I forgot – Brexit is closing our borders to better graduates. Cunning.

Graham Gibbs
Former director, Oxford Learning Institute, University of Oxford

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