Was your university degree worth £9,000 a year?
The Office of Fair Trading has announced it will examine how universities in England compete for undergraduates, whether degree courses meet students’ expectations and whether any consumer laws are currently being breached in the way that university is sold to young people today.
It is believed that that researchers are particularly interested in how English universities compete, students’ experiences of the current system – and the quality of the degree courses being sold. The intervention follows a near tripling of tuition fees in England to a maximum of £9,000 a year combined with a relaxing of controls on the number of students each university can recruit.
Ministers have repeatedly claimed that the system is designed to create more of a marketplace within the higher education system and allow institutions to compete on quality. But there are concerns that students are failing to fully understand the difference between courses — leaving some feeling “short-changed”. Earlier this year, a study by Which? and the Higher Education Policy Institute found that the average student works for just 30 hours a week — including private study — which is 25 per cent less than the recommended total. Many universities claim students should expect higher education study to be more independent than school – but if that is the case it raises the question: What are you paying for exactly?
Figures showed that physics students can receive anything between 11 and 25 hours’ tuition each week, with contact time for social studies students ranging from nine to 16 hours. The move follows claims from Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, that students in Britain currently receive less teaching than those in other European countries. He said the country was “short-changing our students in this respect”.
Sonia Sodha, head of public services at Which?, said:
“Our comparisons with previous decades show that today’s students are working for fewer hours, are set less work and are receiving less detailed feedback.
“With increased tuition fees, and a greater choice of universities and courses than ever before, it’s essential that students can access better information about the academic experience on offer, so they can see whether they are getting value for money.”
The investigation could lead to the publication of new guidance to universities or warnings to individual institutions about possible breaches of consumer law. The OFT may also issue fresh advice to students about navigating the applications process. Clive Maxwell, OFT chief executive, said:
“Universities in England enjoy an enviable reputation across the world. We want to ensure that choice and competition between universities play a positive role in underpinning their success in future, and encourage students, universities, employers and others to respond to our call for information.”
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said:
“The higher education system in England has undergone major changes over the last few years, so it is understandable that the OFT might wish to gather information on how the system is functioning and whether it is working in the interests of students, as intended.”
Graduate Fog welcomes research into this important subject as it is vital that students’ consumer rights are protected. Deciding to go to university is a major financial commitment. Young people must have total confidence that if they are paying tens of thousands of pounds to study at university, it is guaranteed to be a top-quality learning experience.
*WHAT WILL THE REVIEW FIND?
Was your degree course good value for money? What did you pay – and how many hours of teaching were you given? Should you expect lectures and tutorials – or is the whole point of university that you teach yourself? Are universities guilty of ripping off their students?