Go back

Some students receive three times the teaching of others

Image: goddard studio 13 [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

Undergraduates who study economics and history get less than half the teaching of physics students, a report has found.

There is a huge variation in the teaching intensity that students receive across different universities and subjects, according to a report published in the journal Fiscal Studies on 31 July.

Those who study economics get the least teaching. However the extent of the contact also varies hugely between institutions.

An economics undergraduate in the top decile of universities by teaching intensity receives almost five times as much teaching as a student in the bottom decile, the report found.

The authors of the report ‘Class Size at University’ collected data from 67 universities about the teaching on three courses: economics BSc, history BA and physics BSc.

Mike Peacey, a senior lecturer in economics at the New College of Humanities, and Gervas Huxley, a teaching fellow in the economics department at the University of Bristol, used a metric they call the total equivalent adjusted contact hour to define a unit of teaching equivalent to an hour of one-to-one contact with a staff member.

They found that physics students received the largest mean score over a three-year degree, which was 2.3 times that of a history student and 2.9 times that of a economics student.

The variation across disciplines within a university was largest in the Russell Group of 24 research-led institutions. In physics, Russell Group universities provide 60 per cent more teaching per degree than non-Russell Group universities. For economics and history, this result was reversed, with Russell Group universities providing 38 per cent less teaching per degree than non-Russell Group universities.

The research found that in the past 50 years, contact hours have changed very little, but class size has increased substantially. It also said that there was no relationship between how much students pay in tuition fees and how much teaching they receive.

Peacey told HE that he hoped the findings would encourage “openness from universities”.

“Many finish university finding they haven’t received as much teaching as they thought they would get,” he said.

“We undertook this work because the last time there was any comparable data was in 1963 with the Robbins report but, with the introduction and rise in tuition fees, students are now more aware of what they are paying for,” Peacey said. “If you call something a tuition fee, but what one person pays is being spent on subsidising another subject or research, it raises questions.”

Peacey said he hoped the formula could be used alongside the teaching excellence framework, especially as Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, recently announced that it would soon be implemented at subject level.

“Our data is about accountability,” Peacey said. “Student, parents and policy makers should be able to know what fees do and to be able to make informed choices.”