Bid to downgrade universities that give just six hours teaching is shelved
PLANS to downgrade universities where students receive only a few hours of teaching each week have been quietly shelved.
A backlash from vice-chancellors has forced the higher education regulator to abandon its proposal to consider the amount of lectures and tutorials on offer when awarding new rankings for degree courses.
From next year, universities will be awarded either a gold, silver or bronze status for the quality of teaching offered in each degree subject. Factors that will influence the rating will include student satisfaction surveys and whether graduates go on to well-paid jobs.
But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that plans to take i nto account how many hours of teaching students get and the size of the classes have been abandoned by the Office for Students (OfS). The U-turn follows fierce opposition from university chiefs who argued that ‘quantity does not always equal quality’ and that independent study is an essential part of a degree.
Critics last night slammed the decision and complained that some ‘ rip- off ’ degrees were charging students £9,250 a year in fees for as little as six hours of lectures and tutorials a week.
Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘It should not be too much to expect those selling degree courses to deliver adequate tuition. This lack of teaching is making too many degree courses a fraudulent racket.’
Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, added: ‘The omission of this measure weakens the ranking and prevents students and parents from accessing information that they have a right to know.’
The move means the only way that students can compare contact hours is to search individual university websites. Even then, institutions use different ways to measure teaching time and some do not provide figures at all. Research con- sistently shows the number of hours in lectures to be a major source of dissatisfaction among undergraduates. A survey of 14,000 students this year found those with fewer than nine hours a week of ‘contact time’ were most likely to feel they were not getting value for money.
Teaching time varies massively, with some students receiving almost five times as much contact time as those taking the same subject at a different university. And humanities students tend to receive fewer hours than those in science degrees, despite often paying the same fees.
However, Yvonne Hawkins, director of teaching excellence at the OfS, said a trial had shown that ‘teaching intensity metrics were not the best way’ to decide ratings.
University College London said the OfS had recognised that ‘it is not the quantity of the hours that matter, but the quality of the interaction’; Goldsmiths in London said a measure of contact hours did not take into account factors such as practical exercises, study groups and fieldwork; and Exeter University said it aimed to help students become independent learners.
The Department for Education said the OfS was looking at how best to report teaching hours.