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Where your student fees go... watch

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    Working in the University sector, I feel that both current and prospective students need to be made aware of what is happening.

    The Universities are all worried about a loss of income. This is resulting in a number of decisions that will have a detrimental impact on students. Most Universities have decided to concentrate on getting in research and enterprise income to make up for a loss of income from teaching. However, this is a risky strategy as 65% of research funding goes to a tiny minority of Universities. This means that the remaining majority of Universities are scrabbling around for the remaining 35%. In order to try and get this funding, academics are being pressured into getting income from research which impacts on their ability to deliver appropriate teaching and help to students.

    Universities are also cutting back on teaching in order to chase this research money. This is resulting in larger class sizes, less contact time, less preparation time, and restrictions on assignments. My local University has decided that tutorial and seminar class sizes should increase to 30 students, each module should be restricted to 2 hours of contact per week, that only 30 minutes is required for preparing an hour-long class, and lecturers should only spend 10 minutes marking time across all the assignments/exams that each each student presents within a module.

    However, all this does not fix the underlying problems that Universities have.

    Firstly, they are hugely inefficient. Currently there are more non-academic FTE's across all institutions than academic FTE's. This is partly down to the structure of most universities that have a central registry with autonomous schools or faculties resulting in vast overlaps in terms of processes and procedures as well as inefficiencies in such things as support and procurement. How many schools do you know where there are more non-teaching staff than teaching staff?



    Secondly, because of the recent increase in student numbers, a large number of students are attending university who are not capable of the work. Each one of these students will require extra one-to-one tuition from the academics, many do not attend classes and require chasing up, and the universities create extra administration processes to force the academics to pass these students regardless of their abilities. All this extra help and support costs and is unfair on those more capable students.



    Finally, teaching budgets often subsidise research (in some universities it is the other way around). This is especially true of the post-92 universities which when formed were not research intensive. However, with changes to lecturers contracts etc., these universities started requiring their academics to become more research focused. Unfortunately, this could only be done by using money for teaching as the academics were initially unable to get much money from the research councils and funding bodies. As universities jostle for the research funding, more pressure is being applied on academics to do more research in order to build a research profile that will give the university an edge when applying for research funds. However, some academics do not do any research, but just stick to their 18 hours teaching per week. This means that their contractual research time has to be funded from elsewhere (for example, teaching income).



    Whilst a significant proportion of universities will suffer from all three of these issues, many will only suffer from one or two. No university can claim not to suffer from any of them.



    This brings me onto some figures. I'll start off with the premise that the student will be paying £6000 per year for a course. This can then be split into £1000 for each 20 credit module. So if there are 45 students taking that module, the university will receive £45000 to cover the costs of that module.



    Lets assume that each module consists of one hour lecture plus one hour tutorial (some universities/modules will have more and some will have less), and lets assume there are 15 students in each tutorial group (again some universities/modules will have more and some will have less). This will mean that a lecturer has 4 hours contact time per week for that module (1 x lecture and 3 x tutorials). Over the year (assuming there are 25 teaching weeks in a year) this means that the lecturer has 100 hours contact time (i.e. 4 hours contact time per week times 25 weeks). Lecturers can be expected to do one hour of teaching related activity for each hour teaching, therefore each week the lecturer will also do 4 hours teaching related activity on that module. This means that over the year a lecturer will do another 100 hours or teaching related activity (i.e. 4 hours per week times 25 weeks). This means that a lecturer will do 200 hours work over the whole year on that module (100 hours of actual teaching and 100 hours on teaching related activity).



    A senior lecturer at the top of the scale is paid approximately £23 per hour, which can then be doubled to account for office costs, pension costs, support costs etc. (a rough rule of thumb in business) making the cost of a senior lecturer £46 per hour. Therefore the cost to the university for 200 hours work of a senior lecturer (i.e. per module) is £9200. This makes a difference between the income and the cost of £35,800 per module to spend on facilities, support and administration for a year.



    Breaking these figures down to the income and cost per actual contact hour based on the above scenario works out at;



    Income: £450

    Lecturers Cost: £92

    Percentage of Lecturers Costs over Income: 20.5%

    This leaves 79.5% of the fee to cover the estate costs, support and equipment costs, and administration costs which is extremely high.

    Universities will argue a number of points.

    Firstly they will try to compare themselves with overseas Universities saying that education is more expensive abroad. However it is difficult for a meaningful comparison to be made. For example, other countries operate different systems. Italy has an open access policy for the first year of a degree after which you can only progress if you have passed (resulting in a significant failure rate). In Germany, you can customise your own degree selecting both what and how many modules you take in a year. These different systems will produce different costs. Then there are problems in comparing other aspects. These include the number of hours contact a student gets, the number of students within a tutorial group, the pay of the academics, the actual contractual teaching hours of an academic etc. Additionally, just because an overseas university charges more, it could be that it needs to charge more as they are even more inefficient than UK universities.



    Secondly, they will say that efficiency savings will reduce the quality of the education. Whilst I agree that some efficiency savings would impact on the quality of provision, other efficiency savings can be made with very little or no impact upon standards. For example, if there are two people performing the same function when there is only enough work for one, then one person can do the work of both with very little impact on the overall result. A more appropriate example could be the writing of module specifications. In some universities, an academic will have to produce a number of different versions of a module specifications for different functions (for students, for the web-site, for managers, for external examiners etc.) with each version requiring a different format with different pieces of information. This could be simplified by having one centralised version from which the others are automatically generated thus saving vast amounts of the academic's time that could then be spent more productively. Thus this efficiency saving could actually result in a better quality of provision.



    Unfortunately, most universities believe that efficiency savings mean piling on more administration work onto academics (as they are a sunk cost). However, they need to remember two things. Firstly, academics cost more than an administrator. Secondly, by making academics do more administration, the academics are then less able to devote time to their students.



    So what can students do?

    They need to ask questions of any University they are attending, or are thinking of attending. These should be:

    How much contact time will I get?
    How large are the class sizes?
    What is the teaching load of the academics?
    And perhaps most importantly is: How much of my fee is spent on the lecturer, on estates, on equipment and support, and on administration?

    Only when students start asking these questions will Universities have to start rethinking their policies.
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    Can you please summarise that into a couple of managable paragraphs
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    Basically, Universities want to charge more than is actually necessary, whilst at the same time cutting back on the time lecturers spend with students, and increasing class sizes.
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    (Original post by Bruno Thomas)
    Basically, Universities want to charge more than is actually necessary, whilst at the same time cutting back on the time lecturers spend with students, and increasing class sizes.
    Not entirely true though is it?

    My university wanted to increase teaching time and the class sizes are not that big on my course(s).
 
 
 
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