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English students ‘have fewer contact hours despite higher fees’

Undergraduates in England appear to ‘work less hard’ than students across the country, a think-tank report suggests.

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The findings are in a paper by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Chris Radburn/PA)

The findings are in a paper by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Chris Radburn/PA)

The findings are in a paper by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Chris Radburn/PA)

English university students have fewer timetabled hours and attend campus for less time than students in other parts of the UK despite paying higher tuition fees, an analysis suggests.

A higher proportion of English students who study in England (35%) think university is poor value for money compared to their peers in other UK nations – and English students are less likely to say they would make the same choices about higher education if choosing again.

The findings are in a paper by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) which looks at survey data from nearly 60,000 full-time undergraduate students across the UK over the last five years.

Students from England who study at English universities seem to work less hard than students in other parts of the UK even though they pay more for their education, the report suggests.

The data “contrasts with political rhetoric” suggesting that higher tuition fees should lead to more student choice, extra resources and better teaching and learning, according to the think-tank.

Students in England currently pay up to £9,250-a-year in tuition fees. Meanwhile, Scottish students get free tuition if they study in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, local students pay up to £4,275-a-year in tuition fees and in Wales local students pay up to £9,000-a-year in fees.

But despite paying the highest fees, English students studying in England say they have less contact time with their academics than their peers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

On average, English students have 13.4 hours of scheduled classes a week, compared to 14.6 hours in Northern Ireland, 14.3 in Wales and 14 in Scotland.

It is not explained by English students taking on more jobs while doing degrees as they undertake fewer average hours of paid employment than their peers in other parts of the UK.

English students do more independent study than their peers (14 hours a week) but it does not make up the entire shortfall in other working hours once work related to their course is included.

However, some of it may be partly explained by a different subject mix among students across the different parts of the UK, the report suggests.

A higher proportion of English students (10%) take Social Studies, which tends to have lower workloads, than local students in the other areas of the UK.

The report says: “Contrary to the official claims when the marketised high-fee regime was introduced, English students in England seem to work less hard than their counterparts elsewhere.

“In other words, English students in England may be paying more for less – or, given the different subject mix, more for the same.”

The paper also found that more than a third (35%) of English students in England say they are getting poor value for money compared to just one in 10 local students in Scotland.

And three in five students in Wales say all, or a majority of, their teaching staff motivate them to do their best work, compared to in Scotland (51%), England (52%) and Northern Ireland (53%).

Meanwhile, students from Northern Ireland studying in Northern Ireland provide more positive responses on all four wellbeing questions than those elsewhere in the UK.

Nick Hillman, director of Hepi and author of the report, said: “Students in England seem to work less hard than those elsewhere in the UK. Students in Scotland have more positive perceptions about the value of their course and are more likely to believe higher education should be free.

The majority of courses in England have also been structured around independent study, leading to a reduction in teaching hours and contact time with tutorsNUS spokesman

“Meanwhile, students in Wales tend to think more positively about their academics and students in Northern Ireland are more content, with higher levels of wellbeing.”

He added: “Many of our results are surprising. Policymakers in England have often tried to portray high tuition fees as offering more student choice and a better student experience.

“Policymakers in other parts of the UK have tended to regard lower student debts as a way to improve student wellbeing. Both these claims are pooh-poohed by the results from students themselves.”

A National Union of Students spokesman said it seems “unrecognisable” to be told that students in England work less hard.

He added: “The majority of courses in England have also been structured around independent study, leading to a reduction in teaching hours and contact time with tutors.

“This is the direct consequence of a marketised education system seeking to cut costs and not, as the study suggests, the choice of students who choose to work less.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Government is very grateful for the work universities are doing in the fight against Coronavirus – from supporting students, undertaking ground-breaking research and providing specialist equipment.

“Students should feel confident they are getting good value for their investment. We have given the Office for Students powers to take action where it finds providers are not working in students’ interests, including value for money.”

PA