Universities still not offering students value for money

Which? reveals nearly half of first and second year students don’t think their degree is worth the money, and there are wide variations between what universities offer for the same subject. 

With university tuition fees now averaging £8,500, new research from Which? has found 46% of students with a loan don’t think their degree is worth the amount they’ll have to pay back, although three-quarters (73%) say it will be if they get the career they want.

Three in ten (29%) don’t think the academic experience itself is good value for money. The top reasons given were that the teaching was inconsistent (60%), there was too much emphasis on self-learning through private study (53%) and the quality of teaching was lower than expected (51%). Half (49%) said there were too few contact hours.

There is also evidence that universities are not pushing students as hard as they could. A quarter (26%) of students surveyed say they are working fewer hours, or doing less work, than at sixth-form or college with the same percentage (26%) saying the university could be pushing them harder academically.

Tuition fees are approaching the £9,000 cap and students are increasingly demanding more for their money, but our separate analysis of the 2014 Higher Education Policy Institute-Higher Education Academy Student Academic Experience survey reveals that there are big differences between what universities offer students studying the same subject.

Teaching time for psychology students ranged from 7 hours 6 minutes at University of Reading to almost double – 13 hours 48 minutes – at University of Glasgow. History ranged from 7 hours 6 minutes at Royal Holloway, University of London to 11 hours 54 minutes at the University of Cambridge.

We also found variation in the proportion of hours led by an academic member of staff from around half (58.7%) for history students at University of Cambridge to almost all (94.3%) at University of St Andrews. And although students value teaching time in small groups, business and management students at University of Bath spent less than two in every 10 hours in small groups, compared to six in every 10 hours at Leeds Metropolitan University.

We want the Government to make it a legal requirement for all universities to contribute to the Key Information Set and make sure that the sector provides better information about the academic experience, including amount and type of contact hours. This will help students make a more informed choice and get better value for money from their university experience.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

“With nearly half of students saying their degree is not worth the money they will have to pay, and significant differences among universities in teaching time for the same subjects, it’s clear that many students are not getting the experience they deserve.

“A lack of comparable information makes it difficult for students to know what to expect. We want the Government to make it a legal requirement for all universities to provide better information to help students make a more informed choice.”

Which? University now features guides on individual subject areas, which include our analysis of the 2014 HEPI-HEA Student Academic Experience survey, to help prospective students understand typical entry requirements, career prospects, and what is expected of them before they make their decisions.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Methodology: YouthSight, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 1023 first and second year undergraduates online between 5th and 10th June 2014. 508 were first year students and 515 second year students.
  2. Analysis of 2014 HEPI-HEA Student Academic Experience Survey: Which? conducted analysis of the 2014 HEPI-HEA Student Academic Experience Survey  data to explore variations in the academic experience for students studying three subjects at university: Psychology; Business and Management Studies and History. The results from the 2012, 2013 and 2014 survey were combined to produce a sample size of around 41,000, covering all regions and all years of study. Please note, the 2012 survey only covered students in the first and second year, and students studying in England.  We discounted institutions where the sample size was less than 20.
  3. Which? University is a free and independent website to help students make more informed decisions about higher education, featuring information on more than 30,000 courses and 286 universities and colleges to search and compare. It brings together facts and statistics from official sources including UCAS, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the National Student Survey and Destination of Leavers of Higher Education survey. This is combined with real-life insight from students and the unbiased, expert analysis you’d expect from Which?.
  4. Which? is lobbying the MPs selected in the Private Members’ Bill ballot to back our bill Higher Education (Information) Bill calling for reform of the KIS, ensuring graduate earnings data is published and requiring greater transparency from universities about what tuition fees are spent on.
  5. Other findings of the analysis of the 2014 HEPI-HEA Student Academic Experience Survey include:
  • Although only 8.3% of History students said they received feedback in person at University of Manchester, 73.5% did at University of Warwick.
  • The average time it took History students to receive feedback on their assignments ranged from 3.5 days at Universities of Cambridge and Oxford to 22.5 days at University of Birmingham.
  • No Psychology students (0%) at Exeter, Huddersfield, Manchester and Royal Holloway said they mainly received feedback as just a grade, with no written comments, but 34.8% did at the University of Glasgow.

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