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Which? reveals large variations in student workload

Students of same subject can receive up to double the hours


Students at some universities study for an average of just 20 hours a week, while others are working for 40 hours or more, new Which? research reveals.

We also found that the total student workload – the combined hours students spend in private study and scheduled teaching – averages 30 hours a week, 25% less than official guidelines, raising concerns over standards and whether students are being pushed hard enough.

The survey of more than 17,000 full-time students, jointly commissioned by Which? and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), revealed variations in the amount and type of scheduled teaching, with students studying the same subject at different universities receiving as much as double the amount of contact hours.

You can compare contact hours and class sizes across different universities and subjects with our contact hours comparison tool on the Which? University website.

University contact hours vary

Contact time for students studying mathematics, for instance, varies between 13 and 22 hours per week by university.

The amount of contact time has a major impact on whether students feel their course offers value for money. Of those receiving 0-9 hours of contact per week, 30% of first-year students said their course didn’t offer value for money, compared with 10% for those with 15-24 hours per week.

University contact hours as a whole have risen by only 18 minutes per week to 14 hours on average since 2006, despite the nine-fold increase in tuition fees in England – now up to £9,000 per year – over that period.

More information for students

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: ‘With an increasingly competitive higher education sector, and soaring tuition fees, it has never been more important for prospective students to get as much information as possible to help them make the right choice.

‘There must be an investigation into the huge variations in the academic experience that we have revealed, and more transparency to ensure students can get the information they need.’

We want to see prospective students given better information about what to expect from the academic experience of different university courses upfront – 32% of students told us they might have chosen a different course if they’d had more information and one in 10 felt information provided by universities was misleading.

Which? University

In September 2012, Which? launched Which? University, a free and independent website to help students make more informed decisions about higher education. The website enables students to search and compare more than 30,000 undergraduate courses and 281 universities and colleges.

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