Percentage error

December 20, 2012

The major miscalculation in relating student-to-staff ratios to time spent teaching is the use of percentages of time instead of hours ("The lecturers who don't teach (but still count)", News, 6 December). This error is deliberately required by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and is also used by Research Councils UK. Universities are not expected to report the number of hours per week worked, only percentages. When RCUK provides funding for 10 per cent of an academic's time, this is stated to be 37.5/10 hours, or less than four hours. However, there is wide variation between and within institutions in the number of hours worked per week. My typical week would be at least 50 hours, both in term time and during vacations. Sixty hours is not uncommon in many disciplines.

It is illogical and incoherent to compare percentages based on different working weeks. For a 37.5-hour week, 50 per cent is about 19 hours; for a 60-hour week, 25 per cent is 15 hours. The difference is much less dramatic than the percentages suggest.

The other serious problem in comparisons at the university level is differing disciplinary mixes. Laboratory subjects necessarily have more contact hours: students are allowed to work in libraries without supervision, but not in labs.

Jane Hutton, Department of statistics, University of Warwick

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry

But the highest value UK spin-off companies mainly come from research-intensive universities, latest figures show