Are English (and History) students getting a rotten deal?

UCL English undergraduate Mirren Gidda has drawn attention to the lack of contact hours on her course, but with 8.5 hours a week she shouldn’t complain – in my final year studying History I had only 4 hours of contact time a week, and one semester in second year I had a 5 day weekend. Attendance at lectures wasn’t even compulsory. I realise that both English and History involve a lot of reading, and therefore a lot of personal study, but with tuition fees at £9000 students may start to balk at committing to what can seem like a glorified library membership. I agree with Gidda that the format of these courses needs to be more widely acknowledged, and made clear to potential students.

Like Gidda, I also appreciate the importance of quality teaching over the number of hours taught. Yet while I received some excellent teaching from some inspirational tutors I also attended some dire lectures, which may explain the lack of student attendance to these non-compulsory contact hours (especially when they were scheduled at 9am on Friday morning). The feeling of isolation from the department (and the culture of working at home in your pyjamas) that such a focus on personal study generates may also explain the reluctance people felt at having to drag themselves into campus for one hour of lectures. I really enjoyed my course, and took advantage of the many extra-curricular opportunities that University offers. But with the rise of online courses I can see Universities struggling to justify charging such high fees for so little tangible content.

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