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Mail on Sunday data 'highly problematic'

The History department has refuted the data in an article on contact time in the Mail on Sunday.

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 The Department are reluctant to improve their KIS statistics by shifting the bulk of teaching to lectures. Photo Credit: bethan vincent
The Department are reluctant to improve their KIS statistics by shifting the bulk of teaching to lectures. Photo Credit: bethan vincent


The History department has refuted the data in an article on contact time in the Mail on Sunday.

The department has called the article, "highly problematic and not representative of the experiences and opportunities available to York History students."

Inconsistencies have been cited in the collection methods used by different universities to compile the data for the Key Information Set (KIS).

The KIS is an official overview of comparable information on higher education courses for prospective students.

The figures, compiled from statistics on Government website Unistats, were cited by the Mail on Sunday, in a piece published on 28th April.

The article states that the figures, "show that one of the widest gaps involves undergraduates studying history at the University, who spend just 8 per cent of their course in lectures and seminars, with the rest in 'independent' study."

This transpires as fewer than 100 hours contact time with academics every academic year, working out to nearly £100 an hour.

Tutors' 'office hours', personal supervision meetings, and time spent completing LFA language courses have not been included in the KIS data.

These additional commitments amount to between 2 to 8 extra hours of contact time per week, beyond the published KIS numbers.

The University only counts a one-hour lecture or discussion group as 50 minutes to allow for changeover time, which has not necessarily been the case at other universities.

The department says, "the data is problematic because it does not discriminate between the type and quality of contact: one-to-one tutorials, seminars and lectures with two hundred students are all treated as equivalent, even though one-hour of small-group seminar teaching requires the same amount of staff time as ten hours of lectures."

The introduction of league tables always creates pressure to 'game' the system. The department called for a more robust method of comparing History degrees at different institutions. Over 50 per cent of teaching in the first year is through small group seminars; this rises to 65 per cent in the second year and 85 per cent in the final year.

Bethan Vincent, a third year historian, has written a response piece to be published by the Daily Mail, titled 'University is not a number, it's an experience.' Vincent told Nouse, "I felt the article in the Mail was just a piece 'sensationalist' reporting, using statistics to paint a very biased view of the amount of contact hours we get.

"I strongly believe that university is about more than just academic achievement. These aspects of university can't be displayed through one misleading statistic, they are intangible but essential."

The data compiled by Unistats on scheduled learning and teaching, says the information was provided by institutions. They reveal the proportion of time spent in various learning and teaching activities - by year/stage of study.

The data on their website is "based on the modules the institution expects students to take rather than actual module choices."

Charlotte Jones and Ciara Muldowney, Second year History course reps, said: "One of the main issues with the article, is it suggests that 'independent study' is of less value than contact time.

"Contact with lecturers is essential for teaching, and guidance, but History is a degree which requires students to undertake their own research and formulate their own arguments. As a result, skills which this degree gives us are invaluable, set us apart from other students and cannot be gained through seminars, lectures, or workshops."

The Department could improve their KIS statistics by shifting teaching from seminars to lectures, meaning less module choice and more compulsory modules.

"We would remove elements of the programme which involve intensive one-to-one tuition, such as the dissertation. This is not, however, something we wish to do, and we do not believe it is in the best interests of our students."

The Department believes students, "should not be taught what to think but given the opportunity to study and learn how to think.

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2 Comment

T Posted on Wednesday 27 Mar 2019

Umm, all this moaning about contact time is missing the point somewhat:

Primarily your PS27k is the price of investing in a degree certificate from, in this case, a prestigious Russell group university, an investment that will hopefully be redeemed by higher earnings later on in life.

If you can get a 2:1 with only 100 hours a year, and no-one seems to be complaining about the relative performance of York history grads, then everyone's happy. You get your degree, and Brian Cantor gets enough surplus to pay for his chauffeur.

(Obviously you have the social side of uni life as well, but that's helped rather than hindered by a higher percentage of "independent study"!)

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christopher perry Posted on Wednesday 27 Mar 2019

Very cynical from T and right on the ball and if right dont invest PS27,000 because most of you studying at the mo will not get it back. I am urging all studens and pupils I meet these days to do anything rather than waste such a large sum of money. The days of University being a meal ticket are over dead and gone. Only do history and english for pleasure not for what job it will give you.

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