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Don't overvalue contact time

The free time we have gives us time to carve our own paths into employment - a luxury that other students with more contact time often go without.

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Recently, an article published by the Mail on Sunday exposed a 'scandal': students at certain universities received fewer than 100 hours of contact time per year. This might not have come as much of a shock, particularly if like me, you're a humanities student.

It seems the controversy actually sparked over the mention of York particularly concerning the History department. The Unistats site showed that we History students spend fewer than eight per cent of our time in lectures and seminars.

On average, my total contact time numbered around five hours per week over the past three years. Compared to the 15 hours plus of most sciences or economics students, it's no wonder that some people are quite annoyed, especially those paying £9,000 per year.

Tripled university fees, alongside significant cutbacks into arts, humanities and social science departments, contact hours have become a prominent measure in defining the 'value for money' of our degrees. The general notion, as students doing 'proper courses' will tell you, is that the worth of a degree is heavily dependent on the amount of contact time provided. That's why course reps run on a platform of more contact time.

But how valuable are contact hours? Students taking a joint degree with a language have frequently voiced their frustration with the low level of teaching given to languages.

Similarly, Physics students spent 23 per cent of their time in tutorials and lectures - proportionally less than most UK universities. Where there is a practical necessity, the contact time needed to develop these skills are a valuable commodity; it is only right that departments provide the adequate resources needed for such students.

Where does this leave the non-vocational humanities? Though representatives of the History department argued that the figures did not factor in all the department resources available, there might be a point to be made in regards to the tangible benefits of more contact time.

It is undeniable that courses like Philosophy require a great amount of introspective study. Though more contact hours can help us structure our days much more easily, the actual benefits of further discussing weekly reading might not be as valuable as we think, particularly considering that our lecturers and tutors aren't there to spoon-feed us arguments.

More important is whether increased contact time really is the way to go with non-vocational degrees. Arts and humanities degrees naturally orientate without a set destination; indeed if we were all to become academics, most of us would be taking courses in academic integrity, research and even teaching.

In fact, as written in The Guardian, the free time we have gives us time to carve our own paths into employment - a luxury that other students with more contact time often go without. Perhaps, a lack of contact time actually has a hidden value- one in which we are afforded both a broad, multifaceted education along with more time to figure out what we actually want to spend the rest of our lives doing.

Measuring the quality of our degrees by this crude, quantitative scale ultimately demeans their real value, and is probably not the right path to take. Though contact time is necessary as a means to develop ideas, test theories and develop practical skills, their effectiveness is very much dependent on both students and the degree itself.

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