Students want more hours for their tuition fees

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education and family correspondent

Image caption,
Students who have more hours with academic staff feel they are getting better value

Students want more teaching hours at university - as an annual survey shows that fewer than two in five think they are getting value for money.

The survey of 14,000 UK students found tuition fees, teaching quality and lack of contact hours were the biggest causes of dissatisfaction.

Measures of well-being, such as anxiety among students, have also worsened.

Yvonne Hawkins, of the Office for Students, said the survey was a "clear signal there is more work to be done".

But Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) which produced the report, said the findings on value for money showed more positive views were emerging.

There were 38% of students saying they had good or very good value for money from their course, up from 35% last year.

When this was broken down into the devolved parts of the UK, it showed that 35% of students in England thought they were getting good value, compared with 60% in Scotland, where Scottish students do not pay fees.

In Wales, 48% of students thought they were getting good value and 36% in Northern Ireland.

Future earnings

The survey comes ahead of data being published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which is expected to show which courses deliver the best financial returns.

This is expected to show that courses such as medicine and economics are likely to have future earnings that are 20% above the graduate average, once other factors such as students' backgrounds are taken into account.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Studying medicine is likely to have one of the best financial returns from a degree

But studying subjects like creative arts are more likely to deliver a 15% below-average financial return in future earnings.

Going to a more selective Russell Group university also is likely to increase the financial return.

The government has commissioned a review of post-18 education in England, which will examine whether tuition fees and university represent good value for students and the taxpayer.

This annual Hepi report shows the factors that influence whether full-time undergraduate students feel they are getting a good return on their investment.

The survey shows a strong link with the perceived quality of teaching and whether students felt they were getting enough hours with academic staff.

Students with longer hours were much more likely to be satisfied - with those with fewer than nine hours a week of contact time likely to be the most unconvinced about getting value for money.

The annual report showed that despite fees in England having increased sharply from £1,000 to £3,000 and then £9,000, university courses barely changed in terms of average contact time.

Student happiness

Although many students thought fees were too high, there was also support for the principle of students making a financial contribution for their degree.

The study also showed that almost two-thirds of students, if they had to make the choice again, would still continue with the same course and at the same institution.

But Asian students were less likely to feel satisfied with their time at university, compared with white students.

Alison Johns, chief executive of the higher education equality agency, Advance HE, which co-produced the report, said: "It is worrying to see the disparity in the experience of different ethnic groups and I would support more work to get to the root causes of this."

How students reported their own sense of well-being continued to decline. Only 17% of students described themselves as being happy and 14% reported a positive sense of "life satisfaction".

"Our survey exposes the areas where improvements are needed. But some of them, like improving students' mental well-being - can only be fixed through the concerted and collective effort that involves universities, government and others," said Mr Hillman.

Ms Hawkins, director of teaching excellence and student experience for the higher education regulator, the Office for Students, said she noted that "a slightly higher proportion of students feel they have received good value for money this year".

But she said "significant numbers of students report not being satisfied with their higher education experience. Overall the results send a clear signal that there is more work to be done".

Emmanuelle Algret, 20, from Shropshire is currently completing a science foundation year at the University of Nottingham with a view to moving on to a pharmacy course.

On value for money she says: "There are a lot of courses that are value for money and have a lot of contact time such as medicine and pharmacy.

"I have a friend who is doing a history degree and they only get 10 hours of contact time, which isn't great because we all pay the same money.

"It's too easy to blame the universities though because the course we take is our choice."

The debates over the cost of university come as UK universities take four of the top 10 places in international rankings.

This year's QS World University Rankings puts Oxford in fifth place, Cambridge in sixth, Imperial College London in eighth and University College London in 10th.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology from the US is once again ranked in top place.