I thought I should take some time to address a rather important issue which has been brought to light in the media recently (links inbound). That is, as per the title, the subject of contact hours. Both the BBC and the Guardian (other news sources are available) have recent articles regarding a report by Bahram Bekhradnia on behalf of the hepi. Essentially it looks at the effective contact hours (lectures, practicals, seminars etc) students receive in conjunction with the increased tuition fees. Taking a snippet from the linked summary regarding the conclusion:
[I]s there any evidence that the trebling of fees in 2006 led to any changes in the provision that was made for students? On the basis of the evidence provided by these surveys, the answer has to be that it has not.
I’m not going to comment on how much I wholeheartedly disagree with the nature of tuition fees (a paragraph of whining would just be unnecessary) but I don’t think that an increase in tuition fees should lead to an increase in contact hours. University academics are retained on their ability to attract funding and carry out effective research with a strong impact. Academics that want to keep their jobs will focus their attention on research; not that teaching does or should fall to the wayside. Universities have been given no extra money with the tuition fee increase and can’t necessarily budget to provide extra staff solely dedicated to teaching; the money just comes out of different pockets now.
I am in a good position as an engineering student because I have received my fair share of contact hours over the previous years. I don’t have the numbers to hand but I had over 20hrs/week in the first year and this slowly declines as the focus is on self study and project work in the following years. I believe (don’t quote me on this) that the engineering department has just over the average of contact hours. The academic staff are approachable for advice outside of these timetabled hours. I would say I have received good value for money with regards to contact hours. I’d like to point to another article in the Guardian that contact hours can’t be used as an indication of the quality of teaching for a degree, it’s to be expected that degrees will contain large periods of self study.
So what’s my point?
Contact hours haven’t increased with tuition fees, but they shouldn’t be expected to.
It’d be interesting to know what prospective students think of this, are you basing university selection on contact hours?