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National project to explore how students learn independently

A new national project is to examine the learning experience of students and how they develop skills to study independently.

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) will look at how courses are designed and delivered and to what extent they support independent learning.

The joint project follows issues raised by annual surveys of the students experience carried out by the Higher Education Policy Institute. HEPI found that students reported an average of only 14 hours of scheduled teaching a week, and that this fell to as little as seven hours a week in some disciplines. This raised the question of whether British students were receiving a less demanding experience than those in other European countries, and whether they worked hard enough.

Dr Melinda Drowley, director of research, development and partnerships at the QAA, said that contact hours were important, but there was much more to ensuring students get the best experience at university or college.

She said: “One thing we know is critical is how students learn to study independently. This doesn’t mean sitting alone in a room, library or lab – it’s about making sure students develop independent study skills through interaction with teachers, support staff and their peers.

“We hope this project will highlight some of the effective practice already found in universities and colleges and help spread this across the country.”

Professor Philippa Levy, deputy chief executive (academic) at the HEA, said: “This important project will help the sector to understand what is needed to help students study independently and how those working in higher education institutions can support them.”

A report on the study’s conclusions will be published in September 2014.