I recently read a reader’s opinion in a newspaper, and the answer by the newspaper to it, on the subject of the increase in tuition fees and the amount of time spent in lectures at university.
They thought it was OK to pay so much money and only get 10 hours of contact time in lectures and seminars.
I was staggered that I only got about 7 hours of actual class time in my first year of university, and I was spending about £2600 per year to study at my university (not a top one, but still good quality). For the amount I was paying (and which was pushing me further into debt, even if it was lower than most of my peers’ debts), I would have expected to have spent far more time in actual lectures. And I was doing a joint degree!
I understand that, with being an English student, I was expected to spend most of my time doing independent studying, and that lectures and seminars were just opportunities to see what other students’ ideas and opinions were and to get help from tutors during tutorials. However, I still felt that I didn’t have enough to do. Through my first year, I was already on track for a First, so my boredom seemed genuine. As I moved into my second and third years, my grades started to decrease, despite my efforts to manage my independent studies more carefully, and my weekly hours spent in lectures didn’t really exceed 10.
However, despite only getting a 2:2 at the end of my degree, I still felt that the quality of my tutors and of my course modules were high enough to be worth the student debt I ended up with upon my graduation. I was pleased with how the course had challenged me and that I had learned a lot from it. My university was small enough that the tutors had good relationships with the students, and everyone got enough one-to-one attention.
Looking at just how much tuition fees have increased now (more than 3 times what I paid), I feel that my course would not have been value for money had I spent about £9000 a year for only about 7 hours teaching per week.
I suspect I might have dropped out after my first year doing English if I had discovered how little time I was spending in lectures compared to the amount I was paying BEFORE I started university. Or it would have caused me to choose a different degree, because I certainly wouldn’t have picked English if the fees had just gone up before I started university.
English is a good degree if you’re really good at it but it hasn’t helped me to get a graduate job so far, so I certainly wouldn’t pick it if I had the chance again.
I went on to further study by doing a Masters in Publishing, which cost me about £4500 for one year, and was better value for money because, despite not having many hours in lectures/seminars, I learnt a lot in a short space of time, I had the opportunity to do a work placement which they organised for me, there were opportunities to meet people in from all sectors of the publishing industry, and I got on with everyone on my course, which was a very small group. Also, when we were doing projects, we worked with other Masters courses, and spent more time on campus working on our projects as there was a lot more teamwork involved. My Masters was definitely worth the money I paid (and I didn’t even get into more debt paying for it because I had a part-time job and lived at home so I didn’t need to get any loans).
So, I feel that some courses are worth the money you pay for them, but you have to think carefully about how useful they will actually be in the real world. Make sure you’re getting value-for-money when it comes to how the course is run, how many hours contact time you get, and know how to manage your independent study. You don’t want to come out of a degree with more debt than you need to, especially if you pick a subject that doesn’t pay well.