The economy of undergraduate education

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Earlier this month, I visited Birmingham City University to hear about the great work they have been doing around engaging students in learning and teaching, and whilst the entire day was incredibly useful one phrase stuck with me – ‘There’s no such thing as a full-time student’. This shouldn’t be revelatory, but it opened my eyes to the challenges we face in engaging students. This got me thinking about the amount of time our students spend doing things. Anything, in fact. Trying to work out the term-time maths, I produced the below infographic, which hopefully you may find useful.

The infographic isn’t the point, however. The point is that if we are to engage students, then we need to appreciate how much of their time we are taking. In theory, a programme requires 41 hours and 20 minutes of students’ attention during the week. That’s just under 6 hours every day of the week. That’s quite incredible, and so significant a time investment requires us to respect this time investment. People often cite the £9,000 financial investment our undergraduates are making, but if we were to pay students for their time at the London Living Wage (£8.80 per hour) then our students would earn £366.67 a week for their study, and over the course of a month (4.33 weeks on average) then they would earn £1,587.67 a month, or during one 10-week teaching term (with a week off for reading week or completion of tasks) £3,666.67.

Now, in most organisations this isn’t an inconsequential amount of money, but the novelty is that (most students) pay us £4,500 per semester for their education. Just under £900 less than we would pay them for their time. When you think about it like this, suddenly there is a fair amount of value added to think about in order to understand how to engage students. I by no means buy-in to a marketised view of higher education, but often we ask ourselves why students aren’t buying in or engaging with their academic experience. Even with this rough calculation, it isn’t difficult to see it justifiedly may be because they don’t think it’s worth it. And herein lies the challenge.

The UG Week


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