On The Clock: Is University About More Than Just Tutoring Hours?

22/02/2011 11:44 | Updated 22 May 2015

Parents of children who are approaching the end of school are in for a bit of a shock over the next 12 months. Not only are many universities expected to hike up their annual fees to the new maximum £9,000 rate, they are also now being forced to publish the amount of teaching time each student receives.

I can only go on mine and my friends' university experiences, but we were 'taught' for seven hours a week. Yes, that's right: seven hours max. My hugely enjoyable time at university was thankfully not too interrupted by my history and politics degree.

However, my course only cost £1,000 a year which didn't really make me assess before going to university whether I, or more accurately the Barnett parental bank, was going to get a lot of bang for its buck.

In a bid to justify charging undergraduates up to three times as much as they do now for tuition, the Higher Education Funding Council revealed that universities will have to publish exactly how many hours students spend in lectures, seminars and in contact with teaching staff across every course.

My parents had no idea how little contact I was having with my lecturers and in fact commended me for finding the time to direct plays, edit the student magazine and attend almost every single party going.

They couldn't have been prouder of the full experience university was giving me. However, university is not a right, it is very much a privilege and an increasingly expensive one at that.

I had a blast at university, made some of my best friends and met the love of my life - the academic side of it was very much an after-thought for most people there enjoying the ride with me. Despite wishing that all people could experience three heady years of carefree fun, with the then relatively small fees and student loan acting as the only blots on the far away horizon, it's simply not feasible for the amount of people now doing it at the escalating cost.

With the exception of those studying for degrees such as medicine, which actually provide students with proper qualifications and a job route, the postgraduate course has sadly become what the undergraduate degree used to be.

I am generalising of course, but most people I know had to undertake some kind of postgraduate course, usually costing for a year the same amount as a full university degree, in order to have any qualifications which led to a good job.

In my case, it was a journalism postgraduate course, and that was the year I finally knuckled down because it was costing so much and I knew my employability relied upon it.

I think it is vital that universities raise their own game. Many claim they may need to charge the higher rate as a result of the almost £1 billion in cuts the goverment made to higher eduction, but if the fees are simply offsetting that loss, how will they manage to improve the standard of teaching services?

New fees will force eighteen year-olds to behave like consumers in relation to their further education. In this new reality, universities being forced into transparency over lecturer contact time can only be a good thing. Students and their parents should pay attention to the level of teaching service on offer before taking on the debt.

Learning to live away from home, socialising with a diverse group of people and being exposed to new thoughts are all key to a good university experience and often have very little to do with the academic course. However, those life experiences don't have to happen at university.

Both students and, more crucially, those employing young adults need to stop thinking and promoting university as an essential step from school into the working world.

While most employers insist upon not only a university degree of sorts, but a certain level of degree from a certain level of university, increasing numbers of teenagers will sign up for courses which demand very little of them and result in lots of debt with no job guarantee.

Those considering going to university owe it to themselves, more than ever before, to choose a course which provides good value for money and leads to a job which will help pay for what should be both an amazing academic and social experience.

Otherwise students better enjoy their time at university while it lasts, as the years thereafter will be filled with lots of hard graft. And that's after they managed to find a decent job.

Emma Barnett is the Digital Media Editor of The Daily Telegraph. She writes about media, culture, technology and social issues and has a monthly column in The Sunday Telegraph. Emma is also a broadcaster, regularly contributing to BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, BBC World Service, Sky News, CNN and LBC. Additionally she has written for The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire Magazine, TimeOut London, The Stage Newspaper and Media Week. She can be found tweeting via @emmabarnett.


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