Student numbers soar – and staff levels fall

University students should feel confident that lecturers can provide the support they need throughout their academic study at the institution. Is this crucial aspect of higher education being compromised?

Whilst job cuts are limiting the number of lecturing staff, enrolment figures continue to rise. If a lecturer does not have enough hours in the day to spend time with an ever increasing number of students, the quality of learning will, inevitably, decline.

Perhaps we should first question what exactly tuition fees are being used for. They rose to a staggering £9000 per year in 2012 giving rise to a climate of uncertainty in other areas.

This annual 3 fold increase from £3000 does not appear to have put people off enrolling; but is this a temporary situation? Whilst the demand for a university place has continued to soar each year, it may well tail off rapidly in the future if standards of teaching fall. By then, will it be too late to reverse new strategies, or will it be too expensive or confusing? Or will standards remain low and the world wide historic recognition of British university education enters an irreversible decline while other nations overtake?

It has also highlighted the issue of value for money when considering the staff-student ratio.

Academics must maintain a balance between conducting research and time spent tutoring students. Unfortunately, as universities face a decrease in financial backing, lecturers are coming under increasing pressure to generate private funding from marketable research. This has left some students feeling that they have little or no relationship with the tutors for whose expertise they are paying out so much.

It can be argued that different courses require different levels of contact with lecturers. Arts and humanity students would typically be expected to spend more time reading on their own than someone on a science course for example. Yet all students require a certain amount of face-to-face contact with lecturers to develop their skills. So how can a student’s understanding be thoroughly tested if they are just one in a sea of faces filling the lecture theatre?

Universities owe both the lecturer and the student a system which does not compromise the quality of learning if the institution cannot afford to employ more staff.

If students can get a degree by passively taking notes and rarely speaking to academics, surely we are losing the whole the point of higher education? Universities could, instead, strive to create smaller group tutorials and limit the amount of two-hundred-plus student lectures to an absolute minimum.

Reverting to a more hands-on approach to university tutoring with less staff might be labour intensive, but it is vital that students do not feel that they are on their own. The relationship between lecturer and student should give both parties the opportunity to experiment, debate and discover. It’s not just a case of taking notes.


6 responses to “Student numbers soar – and staff levels fall”

  1. S Khan Avatar
    S Khan

    Unfortunately, the quality of teaching has dropped significantly worldwide. The increasing number of students versus no change in staff numbers has lead to failure in accommodating individual students needs. In the old (good) days, institutes were ranked high if high percentage of their enrolled students pass exams/graduate. Now institutes/universities are ranked high if they fail more students. It is becoming a competition between some top ranked universities forgetting their real goals.

    1. Sami KH Avatar
      Sami KH

      They may be the good old days, but unfortunately they were also the discriminatory old days. Children from a poorer background were often not given the chance to go to university. I know they now struggle for r4esouces, but I for one believe that more people going to university is good for everyone.

  2. Mr Saleem Avatar
    Mr Saleem

    I could see that the government new plans will only bring the quality of education in the UK to even a lower level. We can now see an apparent pattern where students have less respect for their lecturers and expect less support from them. The lecturer: student ratio in the UK institutes is the lowest ever. It is likely here to see the institutes will follow the bad examples of the US universities where you have to pay significant sums of money in order to receive good education and support. How did we end up like this!!!

    1. Kumar Avatar

      I’m not sure your comment is really fair, where is the evidence that students don’t respect their lecturers? The biggest issue lies earlier on when children are not given enough information on how to self-study in school.

  3. Waseem Jerjes Avatar
    Waseem Jerjes

    Maybe following the bad US example of education is the way forwards. First time ever, we have now a private medical school in the UK which doesn’t make sense. We have so many medical schools. We do not need more…especially a private one…but this is the US model.

  4. Hopper Avatar

    Unfortunately UK is following the US example which is scary. Money represents everything in the US; and your knowledge and integrity is good as long as you can afford it. In the US the education and learning ends when you finish high school, while in the UK when you achieve a minimum of BSc degree.

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