Extremely negative feedback has emerged from a survey comparing the quality and quantity of contact teaching received by students at English universities before and after tuition fees were effectively trebled in 2006. This has lead commentators and students to fear that similarly unfavourable comparisons may emerge after tuition fees soar to £9000 at the beginning of the 2012 academic year.
A survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) revealed that since tuition fees trebled, the students paying over the odds for education are not receiving any more for their money. The survey, entitled The Academic Experience of Students at English Universities, reveals that students are benefiting from no more contact teaching hours now than they were before the fees hike. The average amount of timetabled teaching students receive per week was measured at an unimpressively low 13.9 hours, causing commentators to conclude that students paying the new, higher fees are effectively being short-changed.
That means that at a university like Oxford or Cambridge, which both have short, eight week terms, with a two week period reserved for exams, £9000 fees would only buy you 305.8 hours of teaching time. This translates to just under a costly £30 per hour of contact time. So an hour-long lecture attended by 200 students could theoretically net universities an incredibly lucrative £6000! These are, of course, very rough estimates, and it is likely that Oxbridge students are amongst those receiving higher numbers of contact hours than the average, but the fact remains that universities are sweeping in extra cash from students who don’t seem to be reaping any of the benefits of their inflated fees.
Indeed, figures for some disciplines at some universities fell as low as 7 hours teaching time per week, suggesting that some students, particularly those studying arts subjects, which traditionally involve fewer contact hours than sciences, could be paying even more per hour.
The problem is further compounded by the report’s revelation that whilst fees have soared, class sizes have remained the same; another indication that higher fees are not translating into an improvement in teaching quality for the students paying them. This was reflected in the satisfaction ratings recorded by the survey, with 45% of those receiving fewer than 8 contact hours per week claiming they were dissatisfied.
Universities were quick to defend themselves, with fair claims that money had been spent on other areas such as research, resources and facilities. But as many groups, including the National Union of Students pointed out, the research clearly indicates that increasing the amount of money students pay does little to increase the quality of education they receive in return, which is likely to do little to increase the popularity of the coalition government’s enormous tuition fee hike. This is particularly likely to be the case with the 2012 fees rise, given that it coincides with such brutal government cuts, meaning that although students will bear a much heavier financial burden, universities will not actually be much better off, and therefore are unlikely to be able to provide increased contact hours. With a three year degree now costing just under £30,000 at most universities in England in tuition fees alone, students who hear that contact hours are so few and may not be increased are quite likely to choose alternative routes into employment, potentially spelling serious trouble ahead for the UK’s higher education sector.