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How important is student to staff ratio when choosing university degree?

(66 Posts)
antimatter Sat 24-Jan-15 09:41:00

My dd is looking at various universities hoping to apply for Psychology next year.
Student to staff ratio varies greatly, from 7 in Bath to 26 in Warwick.

Could someone please explain to me how to take those numbers and what to make of them.

SarkyWench Sat 24-Jan-15 09:52:23

Those numbers are more extreme that I'd expect - where are they from?
This gives slightly different numbers:

Without context they are hard to interpret, but in general departments with lots of well funded research stars who do relatively little teaching look particularly good on these measures. So I would see the low ratios as generally a good thing as it means being in an academically strong department, but I'd say that other numbers on the tables are more important. Like student satisfaction.

antimatter Sat 24-Jan-15 10:48:46

Warwick ratio in the link you pasted is 26.2.

uilen Sat 24-Jan-15 10:53:27

I don't think you should take these numbers seriously because they will include people who don't actually teach. My own department has a lot of staff but many of these are researchers who don't actually go near the undergraduates. A number of senior professors are also bought out of teaching, by research grants or university positions. This doesn't show up in the numbers but would generally be considered a bad thing for the undergraduates, as some of the most experienced people aren' actually teaching them.

antimatter Sat 24-Jan-15 10:57:37

From what you say uilen it tells me is a bit pointless stat anyway. Good to know!

RandomFriend Sat 24-Jan-15 12:17:28

I don't think the ratios are important. What I would look for is whether there are some professors that are eminent in their field. That makes a difference to the quality of teaching.

antimatter Sat 24-Jan-15 12:30:26

How can I after finding someone's name establish that an academic is well recognised in their field?
Is there a search engine where that can be checked?

Lilymaid Sat 24-Jan-15 12:35:55

Important questions to ask:
How many students in a lecture? (DS has done courses where you had to sit on steps as there were more students than seats)
How many to a tutorial or seminar?
Will the tutorials/seminars be taught by lecturers or students? And will they speak English sufficiently well for the students to understand?
All this gleaned from experience at highly ranked RG university!

antimatter Sat 24-Jan-15 12:48:25

Lilymaid - thanks! we are going to few open days in June - those are good questions to ask!

RandomFriend Sat 24-Jan-15 13:04:00

animatter that is a good question. In my discipline there are individual rankings if you know where to look for them but I couldn't find similar for psychology.

I found this, which ranks the top 100 psychology departments in the world.

My comment is probably more relevant to students choosing to apply for a PhD. I think Lilymaid has spelled out questions that are more relevant for choosing a first degree. You could also ask for a syllabus for the compulsory courses as well as the names of the people who will be teaching them.

uilen Sat 24-Jan-15 14:12:19

You could also ask for a syllabus for the compulsory courses as well as the names of the people who will be teaching them.

The former are almost always online in any case, though perhaps fairly meaningless to incoming undergraduates. In my own area (maths) students bring in prejudices about what parts of maths they are going to like, based on A levels, but A level maths has very little relation to university maths. So e.g. choosing a programme because it has lots of stats having loving stats modules at A levels might in fact be a recipe for disaster.

Besides the fact that the people teaching courses might well change in future academic years in any case, I'm not sure what knowing the names of the people would actually tell you. For example, a course being taught by a professor rather than a lecturer does not make it better or worse. A course being taught by somebody who is well-known for their research does not make it better or worse. I agree that the overall research level of a department being higher often makes the undergraduate material a higher level, but it doesn't necessarily make the teaching good. Ime Oxbridge teaching can be quite poor as there are fewer consequences for poor teaching there than elsewhere.

I also think it's hard to judge the quality of departments as an outsider. I certainly wouldn't advocate using the REF ratings in my own research area!

antimatter Sat 24-Jan-15 15:31:01

This IS a minefield!
I guess Student's room should be of some help.
I will have an eye on clearing this year to check which unis have vacancies in August as some measure of popularity.
It will be down to - how she feels about the actual place.

uilen Sat 24-Jan-15 16:20:22

I will have an eye on clearing this year to check which unis have vacancies in August as some measure of popularity.

But again this can be a bit misleading, as some very highly rated, popular courses are asked to go into clearing to take a few extra students with high grades, when other courses at their university are struggling to fill places. Nowadays clearing is also adjustment, i.e. students with good grades can adjust to "better" places during this period.

It will be down to - how she feels about the actual place.

This is probably a good guide...

Princessdeb Sat 24-Jan-15 16:49:11

I am not sure that teacher to student ratio is actually that useful as many pp have said a lot of these staff may not be teaching regularly or indeed at all. I would look at number of contact hours per week (this will be averaged over the academic year), the mix of lectures v seminar/small group teaching and also have a look at what the NSS says about quality of teaching. I would also ask about pastoral support - will they have a personal tutor who sees them through their whole programme for example. Good luck to your DD.

Bonsoir Sat 24-Jan-15 16:54:03

Don't underestimate that contact with teaching staff is also up to your own DC. My DSS1 worked out pretty quickly that all his teaching staff have office hours and that most students don't use them! He does - and as a result gets hours of extra one-on-one time that other students don't.

antimatter Sat 24-Jan-15 17:07:36

good tip Bonsoir!

christmaspies Sat 24-Jan-15 17:22:37

Look at the number of lectures and seminars per week and how the couse is assessed ie cousework assesment or exam based or a mixture of the two. If your dc wants to study psychology, what does the course comprise, is it heavily maths or stats based and will that suit you dc? Student satsfaction tables can also tell you a lot because universty has to be more than just an academic experience. Location and environment are also key. Warwick for example is on a huge campus but I dont think that Bath is. Has your dc visited?

antimatter Sat 24-Jan-15 17:49:35

So far we only went to Warwick. She loved it.
We are planning more visits in June and September as few unis have open days on the same days! (Bath and Bristol always do)

uilen Sun 25-Jan-15 10:57:58

Bear in mind that most places are trying to make their contact hours look as high as possible (often rather artificially) but the number of hours is often far less important than the quality of hours. In humanities two hours of one-to-one time generally far outranks many hours of lectures, for example.

antimatter Sun 25-Jan-15 11:00:54

Psychology is classified as science. Is 2 hours of 1-2-1 contact time expected and/or favourable for science students?

Georgina1975 Sun 25-Jan-15 11:26:46

Yes. I would be more emphasis on NSS scores as they are undertaken by final year students.

Staff-student ratio: Depends on the learning activity. It is traditionally lectures and seminars (though the pedagogy is moving away from that structure). I do not think the size of a lecture matters at all as much as the lecture is conducted. I would look for 12-15 for a seminar group.

Contact hours: Complete red herring. Easily doctored by an any institution that wants to "play the game". Contact hours do not = value for money. Bonsoir is completely correct too. Contact hours are usually "formal" contact time. A 20-credit module in my institution = 200 hours of learning and teaching. Usually 28 hours formal contact time; 62 hours prep for seminar sessions and 100 hours for assessments. That roughly works out at 18hrs per week per 12-week semester. Essay tutorials, feedback etc... is in addition to those 200 hrs.

Staff: Teaching ability has nothing to do with academic "status". I had some fantastic PhD student tutors (who usually put a massive amount into prep. for their sessions) and Profs who should not be let loose in a teaching situation. Ask how many staff have a PGCHE, PCAP or similar (the HE teaching qualification). Again, no guarantee of quality, but is demonstrative of how seriously institution takes teaching & learning.

The RG group: RG sigh. I work at one, but have fantastic colleagues across the sector. Please remember that RG is a self-organising group that joined together for increased power in the sector (and lobbying power). It is shame that the general public seem to use it as a short-cut for excellence.

I think the "feel" of a place is most THE important. Please encourage applicants to visit every institution to which they have applied. That is where you will really get an insight. Who has turned out to meet you, what effort has been put into the Open Day/Applicant Day, and has your son/daughter had any other meaningful contact (e.g. phone calls).

Georgina1975 Sun 25-Jan-15 11:27:20

Sorry for all the errors too!

Georgina1975 Sun 25-Jan-15 11:31:37

By the way...I work on a clearing team. I would not use clearing as a guide to popularity (which, after all, can relate to a lot of things outside of academic value). Last year my institution held to a very strict entry tariff. We had places to fill, and started well under entry targets across a range of departments, but senior management would not budge on the tariff as did not want to "dilute" quality of entrants.

Georgina1975 Sun 25-Jan-15 11:33:15

Sorry: last thing.

Do not underestimate "getting to know" the Department as opposed to the University.The practice (and performance) of each Department can vary quite widely across a University.

antimatter Sun 25-Jan-15 11:55:51

Fair point about clearing Georgina, I haven't thought about that aspect of rules.
Thanks for your insight!

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