Humanities students in the United Kingdom are getting the least bang out of their buck in terms of teaching hours, with some paying an estimated GBP1,000 ($1,3204) an hour for contact with academic staff, a new report by journal Fiscal Studies reveals.
STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) students on the other hand receive more teaching hours, driving researchers to infer students in certain subjects are paying more and thus, subsidising for their peers in other fields.
Author and economics lecturer at the New College of the Humanities Dr Mike Peacey told the BBC:
“It certainly seems like humanities students are subsidising STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] students.”
For the research, data from 67 UK universities – such as class size and number of hours in tutorials, lectures and seminar hours – are first compiled, then converted into the equivalent number of hours of one-to-one contact with academic staff.
Physics students are found to receive 74.6 hours, nearly three times more than what economics students are getting (26.1 hours). History students are found to receive 32.6 hours.
Pearcey says this cross-subsidy between subjects is nothing new, but the findings show physics students are being “less ripped off” than their peers in history.
The variation applies within subjects as well, where an economics student at the top 10 percent of universities are getting five times more contact hours than their peers studying in the lowest 10 percent universities.
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“Clearly, some students are receiving much better value for money than others,” Pearcey said.
The way forward seems to lie in a more upfront approach by universities regarding their fees and contact hours. The authors point to the UK government’s new Teaching Excellence Framework – a new controversial assessment of teaching, learning and student experience at the undergraduate level- as a starting point.
“For a market to function properly, participants must be able to compare what is offered by different providers,” Pearcey said.