Students in England
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English universities have fewer lectures but highest fees

Students at English universities have fewer scheduled hours and written assignments than their counterparts in the rest of the UK.

This is despite English students paying more for their degrees.

According to analysis by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), over a third (35%) of English students who study in England think that university is poor value for money.

The research compared the happiness, amount of work and feeds paid by 60,000 students across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (NI) over five years (2015-19).

On average, English students had on average 13.4 scheduled hours per week.

The comparative numbers for Scotland, Wales and NI were 14, 14.3 and 14.6 hours respectively.

The analysis also found that English students had fewer hours in class, attending on average 12 hours per week. In comparison, NI students attended 13.4 hours.

Contrary to the official claims when the marketised high-fee regime was introduced, English students in England seem to work less hard than their counterparts elsewhere

– Nick Hillman

English students do more independent study than their peers (14 hours a week), but when combined with in class work they are still doing less than students from other parts of the UK.

The HEPI reports states the expectation was that students in England would be likely to work “at least as hard, if not a little harder, than students in other parts of the UK”.

This was because England was the only part of the UK to have high tuition fees for the period covered, and “high fees are often thought to mean better funded institutions and more demanding students”.

Students in England currently pay up to £9,250 a year. Scottish students get free tuition if they study in Scotland. Local students in NI pay up to £4,275, and Welsh local students pay up to £9,000.

The proportion of students in support of tuition fee-free education was highest in Scotland, with 37 per cent agreeing with the statement “the government should pay all the costs and students should pay nothing”, compared with 21 per cent in England, 20 per cent in Wales and 19 per cent in Northern Ireland.

Students should feel confident they are getting good value for their investment. We have given the Office for Students powers to take action where it finds providers are not working in students’ interests, including value for money

– Department of Education

Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, said that the results were “surprising”.

The data “contrasts with political rhetoric” suggesting that higher tuition fees should lead to more student choice, extra resources and better teaching.

However, some of it may be partly explained by a different subject mix among students across the different parts of the UK, the report suggests.

A higher proportion of English students (10%) take social sciences, which tends to have lower workloads, than local students in the other areas of the UK.

The report says: “Contrary to the official claims when the marketised high-fee regime was introduced, English students in England seem to work less hard than their counterparts elsewhere.

“In other words, English students in England may be paying more for less – or, given the different subject mix, more for the same.”

Mr Hillman did state that, the differences notwithstanding, students in the four parts of the UK had largely similar attitudes to higher education.

He said: “Despite the differing funding regimes, there is still a single UK higher education system, at least in terms of the student experience.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Government is very grateful for the work universities are doing in the fight against Coronavirus – from supporting students, undertaking ground-breaking research and providing specialist equipment.

“Students should feel confident they are getting good value for their investment. We have given the Office for Students powers to take action where it finds providers are not working in students’ interests, including value for money.”

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