Low Hours and High Fees

Image credit: James HealyWith extortionate fees and a lack of funding, Siobhan Mearon asks if Arts students are paying too much for the education they receive.The majority of Arts students at UCD have between 7 and 15 contact hours per week. In contrast, students studying Science subjects, Law, Medicine, and other subjects are in classes or labs from nine to five most days. Despite this difference in hours, all students studying at third level pay the same fees, with no regard for the obvious difference in how the courses are taught.Many students at UCD are eligible for the Free Fees initiative, wherein the Irish Exchequer covers the cost of tuition fees.  Currently, these “free” fees for an undergraduate BA degree at UCD cost €3,000, not including the student centre levy. Almost all UCD students meet the criteria for the free fees scheme, but the €3,000 contribution charge can only be avoided if a student qualifies for a Higher Education Grant, such as SUSI. Students across the board pay the exact same amount for their degree, despite the inconsistencies in how subjects are taught.Students studying for a BA Joint Honours degree, for example, have on average two hours per week, per module, usually consisting of one lecture and one tutorial or workshop. This means students only have an hour per week to discuss the content of a course with a tutor or lecturer, and the rest of the time is to be spent focusing on “independent learning”. This emphasis on independent learning is perhaps a factor as to why students feel they are paying fees for use of the library.Dannii Curtis, the UCD Students’ Union Education Officer said: “The BA programme in UCD is unique in the sense that it is set up to be a very independent learning based programme which encourages research and critical thinking from its students.”
 “The BA programme in UCD is unique in the sense that it is set up to be a very independent learning based programme which encourages research and critical thinking from its students.”
“From my perspective as a BA International graduate and the current Education officer, I believe the number of hours suits the set-up of the course in general, as students are usually allocated quite a lot of research and reading on top of contact hours.”Obviously Science and Arts are two very different subjects, with different expectations and outcomes. Science students benefit from full-on timetables and contact hours, and labs are necessary to gaining a complete education. More money is spent on subjects like this in order to accommodate the ever-increasing interest in the scientific sector, and the increasing amount of students that need full access to labs, equipment, and supervisors. The cost of labs alone counts for more than a tutorial for an Arts student. Any UCD student taking part in a scientifically based module will have to do these labs, which often go on for three hours at a time. A large majority of fees would also be spent on facilitating the use and upkeep of all the scientific equipment in UCD.Arts and humanities subjects, however, are often noted for their promotion of critical thinking, independent study and research. There is a lack of funding for the arts and humanities at any level of education, so usually, one guided session with a tutor is the best many schools can do.According to Curtis, this emphasis on cultivating skills is well suited to how the BA programme is developed. Curtis’ view is that the lack of contact hours, especially for stage 3 classes, is a product of lack of funding and resources within the Arts and Humanities schools. “My only issue with contact hours would do with the lack of funding at school level to be able to provide small tutorial groups for subjects within Stage 3.  Many schools at the moment lack the funding/resources to provide these.”So if Arts students are paying upwards of €3,000 for their degrees, what is the money being used for if not on the need for more tuition in the Arts? As with any university, money saved in one area is spent to improve another. Money saved on cutting back contact hours in the BA programme can be spent on more expensive subjects. All schools in the Arts and Humanities sector struggle with a lack of funding, from History and Geography, to International Languages, with class sizes growing and an insufficient amount of teaching staff, particularly for languages. This lack of funding is a problem across the board, and it seems that the issue of lower contact hours for Arts students will not be resolved until the issues with funding and university expenditure are resolved.Students in many subjects would be expected to do upwards of 100 hours of independent study alongside their ten hours of contact with lecturers. Although independent study is essential to the basis of the BA degree, the ratio of contact hours to study seems unfair. But, as Curtis points out, the issue of contact hours is one of many that are currently being addressed.
“All students studying at third level pay the same fees, despite this obvious difference in how the courses are taught”
Curtis explains that there is a “new curriculum review and enhancement process happening across the university.” According to Curtis, the main concern of Arts students is not the lack of contact hours, but over assessment. “The number one issue which has been highlighted across board for the BA programme is actually over assessment with students. There has been a lack of communication between faculties,” she says.With the SU aware of these educational issues, and improvements in the BA programme due to take place, the lack of contact hours for Arts students is likely to be addressed. What is clear however is that students paying the same across the board for such a disparity of hours is problematic. The result is that Arts students are paying the same for an education that is highly based on their own independent learning. Whatever the result, there are likely to be changes that will change this for the better in the coming years.