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.

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.”

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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