Poor value in higher education?

A new report out today by Which? looks at “A degree of value: value for money from the student perspective”, and suggest that a degree offer poor value.

From the Which? website:

One fifth of the graduates surveyed by Which? said their university experience was poor value for money.

In a separate survey of current students, one in ten said their tuition fees had increased part way through their course – a third of whom felt this was unfair.

The top reasons students cited poor value for money were inconsistent teaching quality, not enough support to find a good job and too few contact hours.

Too many cancelled sessions and poor timetabling were also cited as reasons for perceptions of poor value. A third of respondents said they’d be unlikely to go to university now faced with higher fees.

In addition, students were unhappy with their experience: “only half of students said the amount of work they had to do was demanding, with just four in ten saying the content of the work was stretching.Less than half said that seminars were generally worth attending and 26% said you can get away with doing little private study and still get good marks.”

This doesn’t fully tally with what we see in the NSS where overall student satisfaction increases year n year. However that is not to say that we should be oblivious to these comments.

Disappointingly, Which? perpetuate the story that a degree course is something that you buy, and that will lead you into a job, when we should help our students to recognise that HE is more than this simple transaction. hopefully many of our students are savvy enough to realise that the experience they gain over 3 or 4 years is much more transformational.

In conclusion, the Which? report calls for:

Following the investigation, Which? has questioned whether the higher education market is delivering for student and is calling for reform of the sector.

Which? wants to see improved information and advice, with government requiring universities to provide better information, improved consumer protection and minimum standards for complaints handling.

In addition Which? is calling for improved regulation that focuses more heavily on standards to ensure the market works in the best interests of students

No indication is given of how the sector should be reformed – and it has actually changed an awful lot in the last few years. Universities are already providing significantly more information on outcomes through KIS, league tables etc, but little effort is made to ensure that student become discerning consumers of information. Finally, what further regulation is needed and what “standards” are we talking about here? Either we operate in a market or we don’t – I thought the whole principle behind the Browne report was that with higher fees and increased information that students would be able to dictate the success of institutions?

Overall, not a very edifying piece of work. While no one would argue that students should be provided with good information, that they should expect certain levels of service and that they should be able to access efficient systems for redress of complaints, the argument that reform and regulation is needed is not well articulated,

However, they may be some things that we could do differently to challenge some of the issues raised:

  • minimise cancellation of classes
  • clearly to articulate all the student led study to be carried out – eg if there is a reading week, we should tell students how to use the time effectively, and describe exactly what they need to work on in that week. For a normal module, show exactly what we expect students to do on a weekly basis in their own time, rather than just “read around the subject”
  • show how a degree course can be transformational through reflection in personal portfolios or mapping of graduate attributes