Economics students receive the equivalent of just 26 hours of one-to-one teaching on average during a three-year degree, about a third that received by physics students, though universities charge the same fees for both courses.
Figures gathered through freedom of information requests to 67 universities show there is substantial variation in the amount of teaching undergraduates receive, both within the same subject across different universities and between subjects at the same university.
This highlights how much students of some subjects subsidise others and will reignite the debate about university tuition fees.
Fees were supposed to increase competition between universities. But there have been concerns that students are not able adequately to assess what universities are offering. Nearly all universities in England have said they will increase fees for UK and EU students from £9,000 to £9,250 a year from September.
“For a market to function properly, participants must be able to compare what is offered by different providers,” said Mike Peacey, a senior lecturer at the privately established New College of the Humanities, and Gervas Huxley, a teaching fellow at Bristol University, the authors of the report.
“In the absence of information about teaching intensity . . . school leavers have no way to choose between those universities offering more or less of the tuition service they are ultimately paying for [and] universities are not incentivised to provide more . . . tuition.”
The research, which will be published in the journal Fiscal Studies later this year, examined three subjects — economics, history and physics. Hours of lectures, seminars and laboratory work were converted into equivalent one-to-one teaching hours by dividing each hour of teaching by the number of students present. For example, an hour lecture to 60 students equates to one minute of one-to-one contact. The researchers chose this metric as…