Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Scholars Holler as students rate their degree course as poor value for money

The release of the 2014 Student Experience Survey which reviewed the feedback of over 15,000 higher education students has thrown up some very pertinent results. Listening to students on the You and Yours, along with some unhappy parents, it was also interesting to hear one of the callers talking about contacting Trading Standards. Poor customer care and the term “value for money” was banded about several times as first and second year undergraduates in England are now paying £9,000 a year towards the cost of their course fees. The complaint from the mother who was speaking to the radio presenter was based on the fact that she felt she was “buying a product” from the university and so far it had failed to deliver in terms of the contact time her daughter was getting from the lecturers and tutors.

Increase in tuition fees is not matched by increased teaching time

When she asked at the university Open Day, how much contact time her daughter would receive she was told 14 hours per week, but in practice (due to staff sickness), this dropped to seven hours. Other students who called in also presented tales of tutors going off sick and not being replaced, yet still they had to stump up the full tuition fee. One girl who rang in said that she had just completed her degree before the fees went up, then her brother went to the same university, taking the same degree and they have been comparing notes but so far failed to see what her brother was getting extra for the additional £6,000 he was paying out. When asked what she would have expected, the student cited no extra core contact time had been added to the course, nor printing credits for the library, which she now got as part of her postgrad degree.

The 2014 Student Experience Survey has found that 1 in 3 English students believe they get poor or very poor value for money and a third stated that if they knew then what they know now about their course, they would have applied for a different one. Parents who are supporting their children as much as they can afford, also found it incredibly frustrating as their son and daughter were coming back and telling them about the lack of teaching time in some of the fields of study. One father felt that having compared his son’s social science degree timetable with that of an engineering student, that his son was in fact subsidising the engineering course.

Students now viewed in the same light as consumers?

The interviewer kept on asking parents what was written down in the contract they had with the university which made me smile as to the best of my knowledge my eldest certainly did not have a formal contract with contact hours, resources and the like set out in it. We went through the university prospectus, and checked the offer from UCAS, and read all the details of the course as she showed them to us, but I am fairly certain that was all the information we had at the time. However, is it time to view students as consumers? If one in three feel they are not getting value for money then perhaps it is time to review the contractual process of buying your higher education?

If you are a student or supporting a child through university then let us know what you’re thinking – we’re listening!

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