Feeling cheated by the number of contact hours you get for your money at university? You must be an arts student. Those studying medicine, law, or other subjects with high contact hours look away, lest I infuriate you by complaining about how few contact hours I have.
I’m going to explain exactly why you have every right to complain about the low number of contact hours in your course. As a student, it is not uncommon to hear the phrase “but you’re paying to go to university, so skipping lectures is just a waste of money” from concerned parents. Yet it is apparent, especially with the ever-increasing price of Higher Education, that a low number of contact hours is also a waste of that money.
As an English and Related Literature, and Philosophy student at the University of York, I am currently paying £3,225 a year in tuition fees for six hours of contact-time per week, for 27 weeks out of the year. Frankly the lecturers aren’t that good (not necessarily a slight on the lecturers, but I am paying a lot to hear them talk). This is also the case for students of History, Sociology, Politics… the list goes on., I also received four, 15-minute, one-on-one tutorials per term for English, to discuss my essays. As a warning to future Philosophy students however, don’t expect such privilege- in fact, don’t expect more than a couple of scribbled notes on your work which you collect from the Department without so much as discussing the work with a tutor.
I can’t imagine I was alone in being joyous about the low number of contact hours at first. After getting into bed at four am, I fully enjoyed the fact that I had a free day to look forward to the next day, whilst all the sleep-deprived future doctors and lawyers would have to crawl out of bed at eight am following the same night out. However, as time went on (and my overdraft took more and more of a beating) I became more frustrated that I was paying primarily for ‘self-directed learning’ which I’m told is an
integral aspect of my course. Whilst I don’t underestimate the importance of being able to study independently, I take offence at being charged yearly for what I am teaching myself.
I cannot comprehend the frustration of an international student studying a subject with so few contact hours. At a price of £10,271, international students too can expect to hear repeatedly the value of independent study. I am not arguing to be spoon-fed either, far from it. However, just two of my contact hours per week give me the chance to debate or contribute in any way, and with little hope of this increasing more than by about an hour per week next year, I am not convinced that ‘not wanting students to be spoon-fed’ is a valid excuse.
Either give us a higher number of contact hours for our money, or admit that a greater level of independent study in a course should entitle those students to lower tuition fees (after all, surely tuition fees are being paid in return for the tuition provided to us by the university – i.e. tuition which we could not have given ourselves from home). According to an article in the Times, Lancaster University currently leads the way, by confirming that all second and third-year students will receive a minimum of ten hours of contact-time per week.
Without doing something, universities must admit that these students, who clearly aren’t paying for the tuition (as they are expected to do most of the learning off their own backs) in the way that students of medicine or law are, are simply paying for the certificate at the end of the three years. Considering how little my own writing has improved over the year, and the number of times I have used Wikipedia or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to supplement my lectures, I think the latter may sadly be the case.