Non-science Students Don’t Get Much Tuition For Their Money

The review into university tuition fees, led by Lord Browne, looks likely to recommend lifting the current cap on fees, with the possibility of students paying in the region of ?7,000 per year for their degrees. As it stands, they are set to pay ?3,290 for the coming academic year. So what exactly are they getting for their money?
I am about to start my third and final year of a BA in politics at the University of East Anglia. I find myself increasingly frustrated by the varying levels of value received by students of different disciplines. Sharing accommodation with a maths student has only reinforced these frustrations.
For her ?3,290, my housemate receives approximately 16 hours of formal tuition per week in the form of lectures, seminars and problem classes. As an arts student, I have never received more than eight hours’ tuition (or “contact hours”) in a week. In the second semester of my final year, I face just two hours per week. Figures similar to these can be identified throughout most, if not all, universities in the UK. So why is it that I receive half the amount of tuition, for the same price as my housemate?
Here emerges the “DIY degree”. Arts and social science students are supposed to do in the region of 15 hours’ reading per module per week, amounting to 45 hours of reading. Surely we are not paying for the privilege of reading textbooks?
What’s more, our lectures often reiterate issues that have been identified in the reading, so it seems odd to be paying so much for them. Seminars comprise a group of 12 or so students discussing the reading, led by a specialist seminar leader. Is this where my money is going?
Well, no, actually. A seminar leader will typically begin by asking an open question to the group and then the discussion becomes student-led. Are we putting a price on a group of students coming together to discuss a common topic of interest?
A film student recently told me that he had one hour of tuition per week in his final year. This apparently resulted in the students paying approximately ?300 for one seminar. How many other services require ?300 an hour?
By contrast, my maths housemate gets a variety of tuition that can only really be properly administered by a trained professional. In my (admittedly limited) experience of mathematics, one needs a tutor in order to fully comprehend the intricacies of equations, workings and applications. The very nature of her degree means that she receives far more value for money than I do.
A further frustration is the seeming ease with which science students find employment when compared with arts students. I receive internship alerts from a leading graduate employment firm and I still find myself amazed at the number and variety of internships that are tailored towards those with degrees in the sciences. Therefore, we see arts and social science students emerging from university having had less tuition than many of their peers and with worse prospects for the future, yet with similar amounts of debt, having paid the same amount of money.
It is true to say that subjects such as politics and English are subjective, so students need to form their own opinions. Such opinions cannot, and indeed should not, be taught by lecturers. So how do we account for the disparity in tuition? Should students pay per hour for their degree, allowing tuition fees to reflect the amount of tuition that is being provided? How do we avoid making education even more of a commodity than it has already unfortunately become?
Higher education is supposed to be self-directed learning, granted. If this is the case, why are we paying so much for “tuition”?
I cannot deny that the quality of the tuition that I receive is of a high standard, with discussion and debate of issues being illuminating and thought provoking. I just wish I received more of it for my money.

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