Has UK university life changed much in the last 20 years?

(79 Posts)
moctodtensmum Sat 28-Dec-19 16:17:54

When I went to uni to do a BA I had five contact hours a week. The work was light and I was invisible to tutors. I doubt my personal tutor could have picked me out of a line-up despite the fact I eventually came away with a 1st. Life revolved around getting drunk and hanging about with mates. Everything was quite grungy and the university felt underfunded and the students uncared for.

I spent my third year at a US university and it was so very different. Many hours of tutor contact each week, lots of connection with tutors, student life was so much more than getting drunk: it was about sport, community work, societies and studying as well as partying.

All this makes me think I should be saving for my kids to go to university in the US. But maybe UK universities have changed. What is uni life like now?

OP’s posts: |
Ginfordinner Sat 28-Dec-19 17:02:27

What subject?
Science, engineering and medicine have lots of contact hours and lab work, humanities far fewer contact hours.

DD is doing a science degree and has loads of contact hours. Her degree is not an easy option either. She is sociable but doesn't care for non stop partying as she doesn't have the stamina or the time.

titchy Sat 28-Dec-19 17:09:50

Contact hours will be similar - 5 hours for arts, three or four times that for Science.

Accommodation much better standard generally, though pockets of grunge still exist.

Pastoral support a million times better - it exists! Pretty much all lecturers have office hours where students can go and ask stuff they didn't understand in the lecture. Personal tutors usually see students a few times a term and have a role that bridges the gap between pastoral and academic support.

The 'marketisation' of HE means students (or their parents) see themselves as consumers, and universities are now forced to sell themselves - it's largely a buyers market.

For many students though, life still revolves around drinking, smoking weed, societies, clubs, and regular all-nighters to get that essay they've had a fortnight to do handed in on time.

Certainly wouldn't consider the US given the costs - U.K. compares pretty well.

PurrBox Sat 28-Dec-19 17:13:48

If you are serious about the US, financially is complicated, but not inevitably expensive if you are on a low income.

VivaLeBeaver Sat 28-Dec-19 17:20:44

Totally depends on the course.

moctodtensmum Sat 28-Dec-19 17:23:52

5 hours of contact for arts subject seems so little. Given most universities have 3x 10 week terms then you are talking about 150 hours a year.

I also like the fact that in the US the kids wouldn’t have to declare a major straight away and could continue exploring a wider range of subjects for a while.

My memory of US university is that it was much more socially acceptable to work hard and want to succeed.

OP’s posts: |
Candlebarbara Sat 28-Dec-19 17:27:00

From what I see from the students I work with, parents are far more involved now, at every stage, from what i experienced.

I went to all interviews alone, I chose my course on my own, I spoke to my parents maybe once a week, although often went longer. I did not expect or want them involved in my university life. I told them roughly what I was doing, when I was busy, but they didn’t know my deadlines, coursework results, timetables etc which seems to be more the norm now.

My halls were clean, tidy but simple. Shared bathroom between 6 and kitchen between 12, we all rubbed along ok.

I had a lot of contact hours, (engineering), and was always fairly busy, with some periods of very busy. Exams were quite tough, most 3 hours long. My arts friends did seem to have an easier life, much lower contact hours, less work to be handed in, whole days with no university commitments, I guess that’s similar now.

I think the main difference is that we didn’t feel like we were paying for a service and therefore deserved anything. The results we got were proportionate to the effort put in, and that was that.

I was the era of the first fees, £1000, which at the time stung a bit but now I feel was a good bargain! My degree pretty much guaranteed a job at the end so I wasn’t that concerned about loans and overdrafts. We all had them.

The students that I come in to contact with now seem to know how to play the system to get the best results, degrees seems to be more of a commodity than before.


MarchingFrogs Sat 28-Dec-19 17:44:11

it was about sport, community work, societies and studying as well as partying.

All of which, of course, are things that the individual student can make the decision to get involved with, or not. Most universitie have masses of societies to choose from (and the option to pitch for SU facilities / funding to start your own, if you can show that there is sufficient - often minimal - interest). How 'sporty' a university is may vary, but e.g.Birmingham has excellent facilities and nothing to stop you getting out and joining a 'real life' club. Ditto volunteering / community work.

My alma mater (LSE) may have / have had its little quirks and foibles, for want of a better term, but back in the 1980s I had a regular 'appointment' with my tutor and most if not all lecturers had at least nominal 'office hours'. (No idea what it's really like now, but the open day I attended with DD left me with an almost complete lack of nostalgia and she decided not to apply there after finding that the Admisdions talk completely cancelled out the really quite good Subject one).

Ariela Sat 28-Dec-19 17:57:50

Daughter's uni is decidedly 'light' on contact time. Really don't think the tutors would have a clue who she is (quiet, works hard but not outstanding, always hands stuff in on time), certainly she is invisible to others on her course who do not seem to know she exists unless she happens to be in their group for group work (doesn't drink, socialise or anything, never gets included in any invitations) , but she knows she is quiet as a mouse so isn't surprised.

titchy Sat 28-Dec-19 18:03:40

The US is a different system really, with specialisms such as law, engineering, medicine etc not done till post grad level. Which makes the professions $$$$$$$ and I'm not sure you can compare so well.

Incidentally low contact hours for Arts subjects doesn't mean students do very little work. They should be doing lots of reading outside of lectures. Lit students may well be expected to read two or three books a week, with lectures and seminars discussing themes and ideas rather than actually teaching this happens then that happens then something else happens.

OddBoots Sat 28-Dec-19 18:06:25

"My memory of US university is that it was much more socially acceptable to work hard and want to succeed."

That bit has changed in the UK, most students work much harder than they used to.

VivaLeBeaver Sat 28-Dec-19 18:11:33

I’m a lecturer on a course with a middling amount of contact hours. Max 27 hours a week, often more like 18.

The main complaint from students is that they’re in uni too much.

Which I struggle to understand. If they weren’t in uni they’d be having to learn it themselves. They’re paying 10k a year and getting a good deal. I was worried if we had less contact hours they weren’t getting their money worth but it looks like that’s what they want. 🤷‍♀️ Fine by me, less teaching time and prep time for me!

thehorseandhisboy Sat 28-Dec-19 18:22:17

I went to university over 20 years ago and there was a huge variation in what students wanted to get out of university.

My sense is that there was less option for non-stop partying than there is now, although plenty to spend days in the student bar or local pub if you wanted to.

The introduction of fees has changed the relationships between universities, tutors, students and their parents as mentioned up thread.

Some for good - it seems much less common for a lecture to consist of watching a video for example, and some less good, that a broken printer becomes seen as the universities non-fulfillment of their contractual relationships rather than, tough, you shouldn't have left it until the morning the essay was due in.

Actually, writing essays by hand was the norm then. Plagiarism was much less common.

Pre-internet, I think students needed much stronger research skills and the ability to work independently. 'O' levels were much less spoon fed than GCSEs, so most students went to university with those skills.

There were lots of sports and other clubs. I look back now and am amazed at what was on offer on a small campus.

Far fewer First class degrees. When I graduated about 5% of students received a First. Now over 30% are awarded a First.

Candlebarbara Sat 28-Dec-19 18:45:15

We didn’t expect to be ‘entertained’ in lectures. Some were defiantly better than others, but I would never had considered complaining if a lecturers wasn’t as good.

I guess I thought I was lucky to be there, at a university with a good reputation in my subject, with good industry links and a job pretty much guaranteed. I thought it was up to me to make the most of it, take whatever I could, but not demand anything extra.

Now, with such higher fees I can see why the students think differently, that they are the consumer and deserve to be given more.

SaskiaRembrandt Sat 28-Dec-19 18:48:53

I did my first degree in the '90s, I'm now in the final year of a second, both humanities subjects. In terms of contact time vs self-directed study it hasn't changed at all. Facilities are better - I'd guess as a reaction to tuition fees - and so is pastoral support.

Plagiarism was much less common.

According to academics I've spoken to, it wasn't less common, just harder to detect.

SaskiaRembrandt Sat 28-Dec-19 18:50:59

Also, this thing about students now acting like fussy consumers - I can't say I've noticed that. In fact, tutors often remind them that they are paying as a way of encouraging them to complain about things that do go wrong. I'm probably the fussiest as a self-funding mature student, the 18-21 year olds, not so much.

Oblomov20 Sat 28-Dec-19 19:01:33

Yes I agree with a lot of what you say.

But I did Russian and had 3-4 hours of lectures: language, history, politics, literature, etc most days.

StillSurviving Sat 28-Dec-19 19:09:13

I’m surprised by how few halls now offer catered accommodation in first year. Although I think I missed breakfast every day , I did love having the evening meal and it was a huge social thing to all go down to dinner together. And I hated having to fend for ourselves at the weekend. (There were some dodgy concoctions involving cooking with wine ...) So I think students now have that bit tougher.

burnoutbabe Sat 28-Dec-19 19:09:34

Did my degree back in 1990 snd it was around 9 hours a week of lectures and tutorials and degree I do now is the same!
I do love the fact I can watch lectures online and not have to attend them in person (important as I have an hour commute so can skip attending some days)
There is a lot of talk about consent as well.

Verily1 Sat 28-Dec-19 19:14:49

What about the Scottish system?

3 subjects in first year- continue 2 of them into 2nd year, do another 1st year subject for breadth then do 2 honours years of one or 2 of those subjects.

Ginfordinner Sat 28-Dec-19 20:04:57

The students I know at Scottish universities have treated their first year as an excuse to drink and party all the way through their first year.
A student I know has listed how he intends to go through university in Scotland
Year 1 - drink and party all night, sleep all day
Year 2 - drink and party all night, work all day
Year 3 - work all day and sleep all night
Year 4 - work all day and work all night

ragged Sat 28-Dec-19 20:14:21

As a stupid foreigner, may I ask
What are "contact hours" ?
Do they include hours sitting in a lecture theatre with 700 other people listening to a Nobel prize nominee give a lecture? Is this important 'Contact time'?

I got my (US) degree from a college famous for its partying reputation. I loathed the partying culture & worked 2 days/week to support myself. Worked more days/hours in the exam periods & holidays.

VivaLeBeaver Sat 28-Dec-19 20:32:53

Contact time is when a student has face to face timetabled time with teaching staff whether that’s lecture, seminar.

Welltroddenpath Sat 28-Dec-19 20:38:56

I did a Biology degree so I think ( can’t remember ecactly) I had about four full days. Lab, small class work lectures etc 20ish years ago.

Friends dd is doing a English lit and film degree and gets 15 hours. I think now students pay you can shop around for more hours.

I wouldn’t encourage my kids to do a degree of five hours for 9-12k but lots has changed so I wouldn’t encourage any kind of arty degree as they all seem to be unconditionally offers ( I am clearly grumpy but there’s lots of pointless worthless degrees out there)

burnoutbabe Sat 28-Dec-19 20:39:18

Yep contact hours are the structured timetabled hours. We have, per module, 2 hours of lectures then 2 hour of tutorials (ie small group discussions after you have done reading on the stuff presented in the lecture)
Though seems odd to call then contacts hours to me when I watch the lectures online at home!

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