“I’m twiddling my thumbs” – The Times
Page three story on the cost of higher education per hour of contact.
I’ve spent large periods of the last three years at Manchester twiddling my thumbs. In my first term, I wasn’t expected to write a single piece of assessed work until nearly Christmas. By the end of my third year, I’ll have only sat through 386 contact hours.
My courses are typically divided into an optional weekly lecture and a weekly or fortnightly tutorial, which is compulsory.
Lectures are very poorly attended. This suits the university because some courses don’t have venues that will accommodate all their students. Tutorials are different as the emphasis, conveniently for the university, is on peer learning. For the first two years of my degree I often sat in the only compulsory component in an uneasy silence with ten or eleven undergraduates as a PhD student desperately tried to catalyse some sort of debate between us.
Undergraduates themselves are as guilty as the university in this regard. Students are expected to complete two or three specific readings for discussion in each tutorial, but I can honestly say that I’ve never attended a tutorial where more than a third of the participants appear to have any knowledge of the core texts.
Despite cutting contact hours to a raw minimum, universities are still searching for ways to use technology to further reduce their contact with students. I finish my degree this year feeling like a cash cow who has subsidised more expensive degree programmes with my fees, in exchange for participating in an elaborate box-ticking operation.
I could easily have completed my degree from a computer in London and commuted occasionally to Manchester.