Which? response to the Government’s pamphlet, Robbins Revisited

On the 50th anniversary of the Robbins Report, comparisons to the Which? and Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) research reveal a decline in both the number of contact hours that students receive, and the private study time they put in.

New analysis from Which? also shows a decline in other aspects of the academic experience which are a cause for concern:

  • In 1963 the average student had to submit one piece of written work per week for marking. In 2012 this had fallen to one per fortnight.
  •  In 1963 the majority (61%) of students received both written comments and oral feedback. Today three quarters (77%) of students receive only written feedback and a grade.

Sonia Sodha, Head of Public Services at Which? said:

“Today’s students are working for fewer hours, are set less work and are receiving less detailed feedback. This raises questions about the quality of some university courses.

“We welcome the Government’s proposal to provide more useful information on the academic experience but they must also make sure the Quality Assurance Agency is monitoring long term trends. With soaring tuition fees, it is increasingly important that students are getting value for money from their course.”

Notes to editors

1. Comparisons to Which? research, as referenced in Robbins Revisited, show:

– The number of contact hours students receive has reduced. In 1963 average contact hours were 14 hours 48 mins, compared to 13 hours 42 minutes in 2012.

– Average private study time has decreased by around 5 hours per week since 1963.

2. Other findings from the Which?/HEPI Student Academic Experience report include:

– Three in ten (29%) first year students don’t think their course offers value for money.

– Students receiving up to nine contact hours a week are three times more likely to say they don’t think their course is value for money (30%) than those receiving between 15 and 24 hours a week (10%).

– One fifth of students (23%) disagree that staff put a lot of effort into commenting on their work.  The nature of the feedback that students receive has a marked impact on student outcomes (Gibbs 2012, Implications of dimensions of quality in a market environment).

Which? and HEPI commissioned independent research agency, Youthsight, to conduct a survey of 17,090 full-time undergraduate students in their first, second, third and fourth years at UK institutions. The fieldwork took place between the 26 February and 21 March 2013. 

3. We are pleased the Government is going to consult on providing more useful information to students. In May 2013 we called for information to be made available about academic study to allow students to compare the amount and type of scheduled contact time they receive, as well as the amount of private study they will be expected to do. We are also calling for the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to investigate differences in the total study time that students are engaging in on different courses, and the implications for the UK Credit Framework.