Humanities Students – Getting Less for their Money?


That feeling of waking up and knowing you have an entirely free weekday ahead of you, or maybe even more than one… Yes, being a Humanities student – be it History, English or some other subject with minimal contact hours – is great. We get plenty of time which many would see as being ‘free’: something that I am personally not one to complain about when I’m surrounded by mates studying Engineering or Science subjects who have more contact hours in one day than I have in a month.

I’m not exaggerating. As a history student, last term I had three hours contact time a week as I was doing modules which encouraged independent study and group work. However, my tuition fees are the standard £3000 plus and for all incoming freshers that’s now £9000. This is where my smile fades. How can a course which offers between three and eight hours contact time a week be worth that cost?

The rhetoric often used by universities such as ours puts emphasis on the high cost of running a university, which is undoubtedly true. At Southampton the buildings and bursaries budgets closely follow the £254 million spent on salaries. Furthermore, the university is redeveloping the Boldrewood Biomedical campus, a venture which is sapping a lot of the student fees away from other subject areas. In comparison, the total amount collected in fees is £174 million, whilst its overall budget is £452 million.

Surely, however, the equipment, bursaries and hours spent on Science and Engineering subjects far exceed in number those offered to Humanities students, who would appear to just sit in classrooms and read books, activities which on the surface are less than costly endeavours. The university is taking the same fees from all ‘domestic’ students and redistributing them in a seemingly unfair manner, with more apparently being spent on the Science-based subjects.

Further to this, I can’t find evidence of the existence of high achievement bursaries for Humanities subjects, whereas the top Science and Engineering students get around £1000 every year as a cash sum as a reward for their grades. On top of this, students in some subjects such as Chemistry get fully paid away days to further their knowledge and a wider range of support services from the job and internship services at the university. Is this not unfair on Humanities students who pay the same fees?

Personally I have mixed views about the rise in tuition fees this year, as all can see that the government and universities are feeling the squeeze just like everybody else, especially as investors do not view a university the same way as they would other businesses. However, it could be argued that those studying Humanities will feel the pressure more than those in other faculties, as potential students will think twice before investing money in their education when contact hours and job prospects at graduation are so average.

Potential students will think twice before investing money in their education when contact hours and job prospects at graduation are so average.

This apprehension is reflected in the 7% fall in applications to Southampton University, a worrying statistic since one can only speculate that many students have been put off by the rise in tuition fees, especially those from less privileged backgrounds.

Our university must make assurances that Humanities students will get better value for money as well as an assurance of more contact hours and group study periods, or I genuinely worry that the number of students studying subjects such as History will continue to decline. Already this year we have seen a 7% decrease in students attracted to History, an 11% decrease in languages, and an 8% decrease in English and Classics throughout the UK. This is in stark contrast to subjects like Maths or Law, which seem to provide better value for money and have had an increased number of applications in a climate where students are more worried that ever about future job prospects.

The university has provided me with most of the information I required, and provided information about the allocation of funding between Science and Humanities subjects. Truthfully, I do love our University, and I have had the best time of my life since I started here, but the pattern repeats itself throughout the UK ,with only the most elite establishments such as Durham and Oxbridge offering their students rigorous and full-time Humanities courses, just like ours should be.

Can a course that only offers three hours contact time a week honestly be considered a full time course in comparison? Our university and SU offer hundreds of activities to be getting along with, and the hours of free time Humanities students are allocated accounts for their stong presence in societies and countless aspects of SUSU. Nevertheless, it is the lack of contact time and support that can leave Humanities students more used to lie-ins and nights out than those on 9-5 courses: a truth you will never see me complaining about, but one that seems to put us at a disadvantage when it comes to competing in the job market. I don’t believe that History is any more valuable than a Science degree, but I am suggesting that if we pay the same as a scientist then we should also have the same amount of money invested in our chosen degree. History, English and Modern Language students might not have labs to work in or expensive equipment of Science students, and I do believe that reading towards a degree independently is really important, but I think that one to one sessions with lecturers would really help us to progress academically and would be further proof that the money we pay in tuition fees to the university is reinvested in our studies.

Can a course that only offers three hours contact time a week honestly be considered a full time course?

The research I conducted over two days only confirmed my suspicions that our university is not providing equal education to everybody under its care, and I call on the university to respond quickly to a simple plea for Humanities students to get what they pay for and to not to be sidelined in favour of other subjects.

VP Academic Affairs Sasha Watson’s response:

Sasha Watson

“To compare a Humanities course to an Engineering one in terms of contact hours is not really doable, because the nature of learning, the methods of assessment, and the physical requirements to provide the courses are so different. There may well be an argument for more contact hours in Humanities, and students should raise them with their course rep or Academic President, but Humanities students also need to do more lengthy essays, read more journals and books, and conduct more group work and presentations – meaning if there were more hours, it would impact their ability to do the other aspects of their course.

Looking at student data as well, like the National Student Survey, Humanities students have been the happiest out of all the Faculties at Southampton for at least the past 3 years, because the style of teaching and style of independent learning suits their way of working and interests – whereas Engineering courses have been much more variable, which would suggest contact hours do not impact on the course satisfaction in anyway – but actually it’s the whole course delivery, beyond just hours spent in a lecture theatre, that matter to students.

As for variable degree fees – given that all students will basically be paying a graduate tax for their course, whatever it is charged, with the majority most likely to not pay off the fees within 30 years, it sets a dangerous political precedent to charge face-value for courses, as then you will have students – like they are doing with Universities already – making assumptions of which course is better, based on cost; students will go to Bristol rather than Southampton, because the cost of the English course is £1,000 higher, which “obviously” means it’s better. Plus, you also get people across courses potentially saying “my course is better than yours” because it’s more expensive.”

Humanities Faculty Officer Rachel Stockey’s response:

Rachel Stockey

At my most cynical I would say it is more true than ever that with the fees increase we, as humanities students, are essentially paying thousands of pounds for the right to teach ourselves. However I also know that studying humanities will provide anyone with a unique skill set that is far more transferable to any number of career paths and that Southampton will open the right doors for me to achieve a great career or at least this is what I cling to when I think about my debts – I just have to hope it will pay off in the long run.


Discussion10 Comments

  1. avatar
    Students for Education

    The problem is that the higher tuition fees new students will pay is only supposed to *replace* the money that the Coalition has cut from Universities. Students are just paying more for the same service.

    Except they will actually receive a worse service, because the fall in student number means the tuition fees won’t even cover the cuts.

    Note as well that the Coalition only cut the teaching budget for the Humanities, so to some extent your course is already being subsidised by engineers etc. It’s a quite intentional part of the Coalition’s reforms that the Humanities are going to be economically unsustainable in their current form. We might end up looking back to the good old days when we had 3 whole hours of study time.

  2. avatar

    I love this article, couldn’t agree more. I have Wednesday to Friday off every week this semester, and to still be paying the £3000 does seem ridiculous. Definitely would have thought twice about applying now that the fees are £9000 – That’s a total of £27,000 for pretty much nothing.


    Balls you would of thought twice?

    People were saying exactly the same thing back in 2006
    “I’m going to have to pay 3 times as much for my History degree” “I definitely would of thought twice about applying.”

    Did £3000 put you off? Clearly not… you are here aren’t you?


    Of course I would think twice, especially if I was aware that the course I’m on only has six hours of contact time. £9000 is a massive amount compared to £3000.

    Luke Goodger

    Both are big amounts, but yes, 9k is what we pay over three years as opposed to one..

  3. avatar

    The paradox is that even with the tiny number of contact hours we have a week, the courses as a whole (I speak of my experience as an English Lit student, though I imagine it is the same across the humanities) are actually oversubscribed, as anyone attempting to change a module at some point can no doubt testify.

    It’s fairly plain why this is the case though, with most modules in the second and particularly third year only being taught by a single lecturer (and let’s not forget, we’re a top research university, so they’re all expected to be conducting this alongside their teaching) there is simply no way for them to deal with the demand being placed on them by the number of students applying. The resources simply aren’t there to facilitate this.

    So on the one hand, while one might expect a slight improvement in ‘face-time’ available for each student due to the lower number of applicants this year, I’d still imagine that in the long-term this situation is only going to get worse in the coming years. There simply isn’t the kind of funding being made available to humanities departments that is desperately needed to provide the best kind of education they’re capable of providing.

    I worry for the future that some sort of crisis-point may be reached when our country is simply not capable of producing the kind of academic excellence in the humanities that is so key to both national and global cultural interests as a whole.

    Luke Goodger

    Surely this argument you have corresponds to mine, if some, (not all) modules are oversubscribed, does then not mean the university to employ more lecturers to facilitate our choice… given 9k?

  4. avatar

    You might be interested to know that the number of philosophy freshers has almost halved this year, going from 110 to 65. Not only is the decline bad for the course but it also affects philsoc who now have considerably less members.

  5. avatar

    As a former Southampton science student. I personally think that 9000 pounds per years is an absolute rip of to study any subject. Serioulsy where is all this money going? Universities are turning more into businesses than places of learning. If I was 18 again I would refuse to pay 9000 pounds per year. More and more young people need to stay up for there rights and so these high fees can be abolished for good!

    Luke Goodger

    The gov moved the burden of paying for university to the students as Britain is pretty much broke, but it is true that many people will be put off, imagine a debt of around 30-50k when you think of everything we have to pay for around the degree! Crazy thinking that social mobility and the economy will be seriously affected,

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