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Staff-student contact time improves, but rising numbers hits small classes

The increase in student numbers is having an adverse effect on class sizes and student-staff ratios, undergraduates have told an official survey.

Despite improvement in the availability and accessibility of academic staff across many institutions, a “significant proportion” of students said it was still a problem.

The findings were published in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills report, Improving the student learning experience: a national assessment.

It shows that many universities are making changes to improve class sizes, contact time and informal drop-ins and email contact with staff.

However, student union representatives, while acknowledging positive moves had been made, said increasing student numbers put at risk the small-group teaching that they valued.

The government report coincides with the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) student academic experience research which found that a third of first and second year undergraduates believe they have received poor or very poor value for money, compared with 18.3 per cent in 2012 (see HEi-know Briefing Report 160).

The BIS report, which surveyed managers in 99 universities and student union representatives in 36 institutions, found that nine out of ten universities were investing in library facilities, classrooms and informal learning spaces.

Both managers and students said that one of the most significant changes to the student academic experience in the last two years was the increase in e-learning and virtual learning environments, suggesting a move towards more blended learning - a mixture of on-screen and face-to-face learning.

The report concluded that there had been a “culture shift” across the sector and that the student experience was now at the heart of decision-making.

Get the full picture from HEi-know: Briefing Report 161