Value-Added Study: University students call for a real relationship with tutors

With the tuition fee hike coming into effect in September, students now more than ever are looking for excellent value for their hard-earned money. Choosing the right university and the right course has never been more so important in the current economic climate. Students awaiting their A-Level
results will certainly have the quality of teaching on their minds, which has led the National Union of Students to question if universities are working its members hard enough.

“The quality of education at university is becoming more and more of an issue,” says Rachel Wenstone, NUS vice-president. “Contact hours don’t mean anything unless they are high quality, and you have a real relationship with your tutors.”

In an article by the Guardian, the number of contact hours receive from their tutors has been questioned. The government has responded by calling for universities to publish information about course contact-hours from this September, as part of new standardised key information sets for prospective students (KIS).

The NUS call for students to have much needed face-to-face time with tutors in smaller groups to develop and test their understanding. The union calls for greater transparency about the number and size of seminars and tutorials, and assurances that students’ main experience of university will  not be sitting amongst a sea of students taking notes in a lecture theatre.

The NUS wants universities to give prospective students much more detail on what they can expect when they arrive. David Palfreyman, bursar at New College Oxford, agrees with this sentiment:

“The massification of higher education means that you can do a degree at some universities without really talking to anyone. Where’s the chance to experiment, to try something out and have a conversation about it?” He adds: “There is nowhere to hide in a tutorial of two. If you’ve not done anything, there is pressure from your mates as well as your tutor.”

However, the union stresses that class sizes and false expectations are only part of the problem. The union urges universities to be clearer on what their course demands – workload, coursework, structure etc. and for this information to be made available to prospective applicants.

“It is really worrying that information on what work your course will contain and exactly how it will be assessed is so vague for undergraduates,” Wenstone says. “And it is the poorer students who are most likely to be let down, as they don’t have friends and family telling them what to expect.”

Whatever the case may be – students starting university in September will experience not only a leap in work-effort expectations, but will also expect a very good ROI (return on investment).


Dr Yaz Osho specialises in the politics of ‘race’ and racism, SME entrepreneurship, media representation, the sociology of work and racialized offline vs online identity politics. She has taught at Middlesex University, UEL, Goldsmiths, University of Westminster and was a Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Sussex.


Categories: Higher Education

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