To get a First Class Degree, go to a new university

Apologies for the tabloid-style misrepresentation of the facts in my headline! I haven't seen any breakdown of Classics degree statistics. It's mostly about Science. But has a Cambridge degree, for instance, not always been more highly regarded than one from Little Trumpton University College? If the next step is to insist that employers disregard the university and consider only the class of degree, we are entering the realms of fantasy.

Better results for less work at the new universities
By Alexandra Blair, Education Correspondent

UNDERGRADUATES who study for as little as 20 hours a week are more likely to be awarded a first-class degree at a newer university than those at older institutions, a survey says.

Scientists at Cambridge have to work 45 hours a week to obtain a top-class degree; those studying physics and chemistry at the University of Central Lancashire have to study 19 hours a week for a 2:1 or a first.

The Higher Education Policy Institute survey of 15,000 first-year and second-year undergraduates questions the true value of a degree, showing that some students work far harder than others, depending on the subject. Although tuition fees are now paid upfront in a loan by the Government, graduates must pay them off once they earn £15,000. Banks estimate that by 2009 a student’s debt will be approaching £30,000, which most will be paying off until their mid-thirties.

The survey, published today, shows that while, on average, students claim to be working 25.7 hours a week in lectures, seminars or private study, medics and dentists are apparently working ten hours a week more. Overall the study shows that undergraduates on courses in mass communications put in five hours fewer than the average each week.

The differences were more pronounced between subjects than between different universities, although those at older universities studied more.

Bahram Bekhradnia, of the institute, said: “If students are putting 32 hours a week into engineering and 21 hours a week into business studies, is a degree telling you the same thing about the universities and the experience the students have had? You can get a 2:1 with different amounts of effort.”

The authors say: “This report does not prove that the degree classification system is flawed, but it certainly raises questions that need to be addressed.” They note that 60.9 per cent of students of physical sciences at Plymouth University receive a 2:1 or first-class degree for working 20 hours a week.

At Cambridge, where students may have twice the A-level points, they work 45 hours a week for the same class of degree.

About half of students were disappointed by some aspect of university — mostly with the quality of teaching. Nearly 30 per cent of overseas students — who pay much higher fees than British and other EU students — said that their university experience did not represent value for money.

Drummond Bone, of the vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK, said: “There is no national curriculum in higher education, and so we should not be surprised that different courses at different institutions involve different use of facilities, contact hours and so on.”

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3 Responses

  1. Surely I am not the only one who is frustrated about the fact that University funding is dominated by the power of research, thus leaving unfortunate undergraduates forced to sit through lectures by people who do not care whether their lectures are interesting or not? Surely quality of teaching should be higher up the priority list, particularly considering how much stick school teachers have got about their teaching in the last 20 years? Could the government's trite 'education. education, education' mantra finally be refocused on University education, thus leaving school teachers free to teach instead of shuffling pointless bits of admin around their desks?

  2. I have great sympathy with the plea to let teachers get on with teaching, rather than shuffling forms and ticking boxes. I also have concern (though without first-hand knowledge) at the over-emphasis on counting scholarly books and articles a don has produced rather than the quality of that don's teaching.
    But is Classics teaching affected by these two bugbears as much as other subjects?
    I ask in the hope of being informed (neither nonne nor num).

  3. I am sure that it is particularly badly affected by the latter of the two bugbears, though the fact that it has such a small presence in the state sector has saved most of its teachers from the iniquities of the nonsensical governmental paperchase, but not all. I know – I taught at a state school for a few years and saw the paperchase firsthand.

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