There’s no gain without pain for students enrolled in specialist courses at UK universities.
Subjects allied to Medicine and Medicine emerged once more as the top two subjects with the heaviest workload, according to the HEPI UK Engagement Survey 2019.
Subjects allied to Medicine, a broad category encompassing fields such as biomedical sciences and physiotherapy, require an average of 46 hours of work per week, comprising of 17 contact hours, 13 hours of independent study and 16 hours in placements or fieldwork; whereas Medicine students spend 18 hours attending contact hours, 16 hours in independent study and 10 hours in placements or fieldwork.
This breakdown contrasts with non-STEM subjects, which generally have a much smaller workload, especially in placements or fieldwork.
“Looking at types of workload, we see how independent study is of particular importance in Languages and History, and taught contact hours are relatively high for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, while fieldwork and placements are a key element for Health disciplines,” notes the report.
Overall, the subjects with the least number of hours per week are Mass Communications & Documentation (22 hours), followed by Business & Administrative Studies (25 hours), Linguistics and Classics (25 hours).
Such data is useful for students who are unsure of which course to apply to. Knowing how each subject is taught in UK universities allows students to align their preferred learning methods to their degrees.
Those who dislike placements and fieldwork should aim for subjects like Linguistics, Classics and Non-European Languages, which reported the lowest number of hours in this aspect.
The report is based on 14,072 responses collected by the YouthSight’s Student Panel, which is made up of over 80,000 full-time undergraduate students in the UK. About 1 in 20 current UK undergraduates
contributes to the YouthSight student panel.
Different subjects, different class sizes
Most class sizes in UK universities are within the 16-50 range, notes the report. Very small classes of 0-5 students are relatively infrequent.
Large classes are the norm among STEM, Social Science and Law students; whereas smaller class sizes are more prevalent among Languages and Medicine students, who spend the most hours in classes with only 0–15 other students.
Subjects and class sizes matter when it comes to how much students perceived they had learned from their higher education experience. Across the board, the majority (64 percent) of students felt they had learned a lot, with only 29 percent feeling they had learned a little, and just six percent felt they had not learned much or nothing at all.
Nonetheless, there are some notable differences across subjects. Again, Medicine and Subjects allied to Medicine, together with Veterinary Sciences and Agriculture stand out for being associated with high learning levels.
The report noted that this “is in keeping with high value-for-money perceptions (not charted this year but shown in previous reports)”. This means that while students enrolled in these subjects have the heaviest workloads, they also feel like they have learned the most, as well as gotten the most bang for their buck from their university course.
This contrasts with Languages students, who, despite reporting generally low levels of taught workload, had some of the highest learning gains.
The report also compared learning gain with levels of preparedness, and found that the subjects where students felt they learned the most are the ones where students felt less prepared and vice-versa.
“This may imply that students studying Languages and Medicine, for example, did not always feel that their previous studies at school/college prepared them for the academic challenge and development that was required of them,” the report explained.
Small class size may play a role in why Languages and Medicine felt like they learned the most compared to students of other subjects. As the report notes: “Small class sizes are most prevalent in
Languages and Medicine, and it is potentially significant that these subjects are the ones where
students report they have learned the most – as described in the earlier section on learning gain.”