Student concern over uni course value

Students are now paying thousands of pounds more for their degrees, but many do not think they are getting value for money, according to new research.

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The study reveals that in England, nearly twice as many students now say that their course is poor value compared to two years ago - before tuition fees were tripled to a maximum of £9,000.

It also suggests that students at some universities are not working as hard as they could be, with some admitting they skip lectures because they do not think they are useful or because the lecture notes are available online.

The findings are part of the latest Student Academic Experience survey, produced by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA), which questioned more than 15,000 full-time undergraduates about their university experiences.

It found that overall, the vast majority of students (86%) are fairly or very satisfied with the overall quality of their course, while more than two fifths (44%) said that they think they are getting value for money.

But a breakdown of the results shows differences across the UK.

The report reveals that 70% of undergraduates at Scottish universities, who typically pay no fees, think they are getting value for money, compared with just 41% in England, where tuition fees are now typically £9,000.

It also shows that about a third (33.1%) of first and second year UK students studying at English universities - those paying fees of up to £9,000 - think their degree course is poor value for money, compared to 18.3% who said the same in 2012 - just before the fee hike.

HEPI director Nick Hillman said: "The data suggest growing differences across the UK. Students in Scotland generally think they are getting good value for money. Meanwhile, students in England are paying much more but receiving only a little more. In England, one-in-three students say they are getting poor value for money - nearly twice as high as before the £9,000 fees were introduced."

The survey found that in the first and second years of their degree, undergraduates have an average of 14.2 hours of "contact" time - for example time spent in lectures and seminars, and spend another 14.3 hours on average in private study.

This is much less than the 40 hours a week of study suggested in the Quality Assurance Agency's (QAA) guidelines, the report said.

Once other study hours, such as time spent on placements, is added in, students spend an average of 33.9 hours a week studying for the degree, it adds.

The findings also show that students do not attend about 9% of lectures and seminars laid on by their university, with the most common reasons for absence the fact that undergraduates did not find that the lectures were very useful and that the notes were available online.

Mr Hillman said: "Student satisfaction remains high, which should be celebrated. But over the years, HEPI has built up a consistent picture of some students at British universities working less hard than the guidelines suggest.

"Higher education is a partnership between institutions and students. There is an onus on both parties to ensure the experience is as rewarding as possible but only sometimes is that happening."

The survey found that 62% of those questioned said that their university experience had been worse in at least some ways than they had expected.

Of these, more than a third (36%) said this was because they had not put in enough effort, while 32% suggested it was because their course was poorly organised and the same proportion said it was because they had fewer contact hours than they were expecting.

HEPI also asked students for the first time about their own personal wellbeing and found that while most students are satisfied with their lives, they are less happy than the general population.

HEA chief executive Professor Stephanie Marshall, said: "It is interesting to note that some students - a third of those surveyed - say that one of the reasons that their expectations were not met is because they have not put in enough effort themselves.

"We should respond with equal honesty: we all have a responsibility to help students to achieve their goals and we can do this through involving them as much as possible in their learning and teaching - from the design of courses, to supporting independent learning, to exploring different teaching techniques."

A Business Department spokesman said: "We welcome the findings of this report and encourage all universities to regularly review their student feedback to identify where improvements can be made.

"Students are rightfully becoming more discerning about their experience of higher education and therefore institutions will need to ensure that they have systems in place to take on board student concerns. As this report points out, student satisfaction remains high."

Sonia Sodha, head of public services policy at Which? said: "Students have the right to expect a high quality experience for their investment, but with an increasing number thinking their course is poor value for money - and many saying they might have picked a different one - it's clear this is not always the case.

"A key problem is a lack of information that makes it difficult for students to make a fully informed choice. We want better data to be included in the key information set, such as the amount and type of scheduled teaching."


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