Bid to down­grade uni­ver­si­ties that give just six hours teach­ing is shelved

The Mail on Sunday - - Tina Weaver - By Julie Henry

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.

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