Contact hours chasm: are you getting bang for your buck?

The results of an Oxford Student investigation into tutorial contact hours have revealed large gaps in the tuition time provided for humanities students across colleges.

While the University admissions website claims that “all Oxford colleges have the same high academic standards”, the results of this investigation suggest significant differences in the quantity of teaching provision.

Despite both spending £9,000 a year on tuition, a first year English student at Worcester can expect to receive 89 hours more each year than their counterpart at Wadham, who receive only 38 hours.

During a three-week investigation The Oxford Student collected the responses of over 100 second year students, across 25 colleges.  Students studying PPE, Classics, History, and English were asked how many hours of college-organised contact time they received throughout their first year. The results are an average of the responses received in an online survey and the four Humanities subjects were chosen for their lack of faculty-based tuition.

In every subject there was at least 48 hours difference in contact time between colleges with the most and least academic provision. History students had the least variation in contact time, while the discrepancy between colleges for English students was the most severe.

At Christ Church Historians spent 72 hours in tutorials, 34 hours over the University average.  Seven colleges fell below this average figure (38 hours): Balliol, Corpus Christi, Jesus, Lincoln, St Benet’s Hall and Univ.

Classicists at Merton, Balliol and St John’s enjoyed 96 hours of contact time as opposed to classicists at Hugh’s who spent only 38 hours with their tutors. The average contact time came in at 72 across the university.

The graphs show the number of contact hours provided per week in English and PPE, which proved to be the subjects with the greatest discrepancy in contact time across the University.

Students of History spent only 38 hours in tutorials, almost half as long as both Classicists and PPEists, and 58 hours less than English students, who receive the most contact time of any of the subjects surveyed.

However, no correlation was found between contact time and number of essays produced. PPEists are among the most overworked first-years in Oxford, producing 36 essays per year, while Classicists, Historians and English students churn out fewer than 28.

Holly Isard, a first year English student at ChristChurch said: “It shows great negligence on the part of the university that there aren’t regulations in place to ensure an equal education for all students.”

A number of Historians expressed concern as to whether their tuition justified the expense of their fees.

A Historian at Wadham commented: “I do find it strange that I pay around £375 a week for a one hour tutorial, a one and a half hour class and two hours of lectures.”

Another student from Hertford agreed: “Sometimes I feel like I’m spending nine grand for access to a particularly large library that I can’t even borrow books from.”

Many respondents accepted that degrees in the Humanities require a lot of self-motivated work.

A student from St. Anne’s said: “Contact hours are very low but it’s all about working for yourself. I expected it to be something like this.”

There was some concern expressed regarding the variable standard of teaching.

A student at Brasenose stated: “With regards to the standard of education, there are huge variations between tutors, and it would be good to see more consistency and a greater willingness to provide constructive help to undergraduates.”

A St. John’s Classicist agreed, saying: “There doesn’t seem to be a very good forum for indicating how teachers could improve their teaching.”

The results of this study are the indications of a collective body of students. As a result, the figures in this investigation should be allowed some room for error.