Oxbridge strongest for undergraduate teaching, new report suggests

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A new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), one of the UK’s leading higher education think tanks, has announced that undergraduate teaching at Oxbridge outperforms that at other UK universities in 12 different respects. It noted, in contrast, only three areas where Oxbridge was equal to or outperformed by its rivals.

The report’s authors, Freitag and Hillman, argued, however, that while Oxbridge performs “very strongly” in their analysis, and “as a country we are fortunate to have two such undeniably excellent institutions”, there is “no objective hierarchy of institutions appropriate for all individuals … different institutions offer a different sort of student experience.”

The good news comes after considerable negative press concerning admissions data recently released by Oxford.

The HEPI report, entitled How different is Oxbridge?, was based on an analysis of six years’ worth of data from the annual Student Academic Experience Survey, from 2012 to 2017.

It concluded that, compared to other Russell Group students, and students across all UK universities, Oxbridge students:

  • are more satisfied with their courses;
  • are less likely to wish they had chosen another course;
  • are more likely to say they receive good value for money;
  • have higher life satisfaction; • are more likely to feel their lives are worthwhile;
  • are happier; • have a higher workload (across a range of disciplines);
  • spend more hours per week studying outside of class;
  • are more likely to have classes with 0 to 5 other students;
  • receive more useful feedback;
  • receive faster feedback; and
  • believe they are learning more.

There were three areas where Oxbridge performed less well:

  • Oxbridge students have similar levels of anxiety to students at other Russell Group universities and UK universities overall;
  • Oxbridge students do not have many more scheduled contact hours than students at other Russell Group universities or all UK universities
  • Oxbridge students and students at other Russell Group universities are less likely to think they are receiving original or creative teaching than students at UK universities overall.

Whilst recognising that it is “not possible to say precisely” what factors are responsible for Oxbridge’s strong performance, Freitag and Hillman suggest that they are likely to include the preparedness of Oxbridge entrants, the collegiate environment, the quality of the facilities, a higher level of teaching intensity, diverse student and staff, and being situated in relatively prosperous and safe cities.

David Palfreyman, who is a fellow of New College, and wrote the foreword to the study, expressed his pleasure that “for once, there is good and positive news from a third party to be conveyed about Oxford.”

He praised the report as a “stimulating publication” and referred to HEPI as “the foremost think tank in higher education”.

In 2009, HEPI published a paper entitled Oxford and Cambridge – how different are they?, which concluded that:

“The resources that Oxford and Cambridge enjoy are substantially greater than any other institution in the United Kingdom, and without doubt it is this fact above all that has enabled them to stand out as exceptional universities in the UK and Europe, but also, on most measures, in the world.”

This year’s report can be read in full here.