Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Q&A article

Compiled and written for University Business in April 2010.


Do students get enough contact hours for their fees?

Universities are facing accusations of failing students by providing insufficient contact hours, valuable time in which students attend lectures and discuss feedback with lecturers. A recent survey of 2000 undergraduates by The Times concluded that 16% of humanities students get less than five hours of contact per week, but some members of the sector argue that students should accept more responsibility and read their subjects rather than expect lecturers to hold their hand throughout their course. With fees set to increase, contact hours are becoming a hot topic in higher education.

Professor Clive Upton, Professor of Modern English Language, University of Leeds
“Reading” for a degree means just that, the onus being on the scholar to learn, with the tutor facilitating that learning. Students should be availing themselves of the opportunity for one-to-one meetings, in consultation hours scheduled by tutors but little used by students. It is easier now to gain a university place than at any time in the past, with staff-student ratios being steadily eroded as more and more students have been provided with places, staffing levels not keeping pace. Tutors are not only teachers, but are researchers and administrators too… time must be allowed for it. In their defence, students are doubtless unaware of the many calls upon the small number of staff who can be deployed to teach them, though as adults they could be expected to reflect that there might be such before reaching easy judgments. Perhaps we are in error in not making sufficiently plain to them the realities of a higher education system that has expanded to give them places, places denied to previous generations.

Sally Hunt, General Secretary, UCU
Students do not want, and should not expect, to have their hands held during their time at university. What they do have the right to expect is high-quality teaching, research and advice from experts in the field, although we do share the concerns of students and their parents over the likelihood of increased class sizes and fewer contact hours with staff. You cannot make cuts without serious consequences. We believe the cuts could lead to thousands of jobs being lost and the staff who survive the cull left with more students to teach and less time to spend with them. Anyone who thinks this won’t massively impact on the quality of education in this country is living in a dream world.

Nick Lloyd, Lecturer in Defence Studies, Kings College London
A physics undergraduate requires numerous contact hours, many of which are based in the laboratory. Such close instruction and experimentation is an essential element of mathematical and scientific work. An arts and humanities degree course requires no lab work, only the time to read and reflect. In order to understand lectures, write essays and take a constructive role in seminars, students need to spend their time in the library reading. Perhaps universities should enforce compulsory reading classes for six hours each day. At least it would beef up the number of “contact hours” students would have.

Wes Streeting, President, NUS
The amount of time it takes to receive feedback on coursework was highlighted as a cause for concern, with a quarter of students having to wait more than five weeks for feedback, which is wholly unacceptable. Our research found that only 25% of students receive verbal feedback on their assessments, compared with 71% who would like it: 40% of students in higher education are choosing to study part time.

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