Is Your Degree Value for Money?

On average, undergraduate students at the University of Leeds receive a mere 11 contact hours a week, with Bachelor of Arts students averaging at even less. At a steep £9250 a year, are students in 2020 getting their value for money? With a climb in tuition fees in 2010, corresponding with a gradual fall in contact hours for arts and humanities students, many are left dissatisfied with where their money is being spent. 

It is worth clarifying that many undergraduate degrees, predominantly Bachelor of Sciences, receive ample contact hours and resources from the university. A student studying medicine or dentistry can expect at least 25 hours of class a week, as well as regular placement work. Furthermore, other BSc courses such as physics and chemistry are all upwards of 11 contact hours a week, plus the extensive use of labs and scientific equipment. All in all, it appears easy to see where their £9250 is distributed. 

However, the story is very different for those reading arts and humanities. As a politics student myself, I receive a pitiful 6 hours of lectures and seminars a week in my second year of study. This is the case for many fellow Bachelor of Arts students at the University of Leeds. If we break down the figures we can see the full extent of the disparity between BAs and BScs. For 6 hours a week, in a 22 week academic year, a politics student is paying the University of Leeds a startling £68 per contact hour. Whereas an engineering student, averaging at 17 hours, pays just £24.

Where does all this money go? Admittedly, BA students have access to a huge collection of books and online resources which are vital to all three years of their studies. This reading also requires hours of attention each week, which, to some extent, justifies the often 6 to 8 hours in lectures and seminars. However, I can’t help but feel that universities are underestimating the value of class engagement, and failing to see the danger of detachment between students and their course. A survey of more than 15,000 full-time UK undergraduates, conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) in 2015, revealed that only 57% of students with under 10 hours a week were satisfied with their studies, compared with 77% who had over 20. 

Towards the end of 2018, a government think tank proposed a plan to cut tuition fees to £6000 a year, but significantly raise STEM courses to £13,500. What might have appeared as a solution to the disparity in ‘value for money’ between courses, proved to have a plethora of damaging implications. Many criticisms highlighted the danger of arts courses being perceived as less worthy than STEM subjects, due to their lowered price, along with the threat to social mobility as the staggering £13,500 could push lower income students away from BScs. 

It is paramount that the solution is not a tiered system of tuition fees, a proposition which is frankly degrading to those studying for Bachelor of Arts. Instead, I suggest that BA students simply deserve more lectures and seminars to feel satisfied with their learning experience. It is not the £9000 figure which is the core problem, it is the lack of engagement in their course that many arts and humanities students are facing. 

Yes, independent study is crucial in university academia, but the benefits of sufficient student discussion, debate and group cooperation equips students with essential skills for the professional world. These social engagements are ultimately vital to students’ academic fulfilment, especially those studying arts and humanities, whose studies often centre around argument and debate. With a £9250 price tag, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.