The local newspaper in Uppsala, UNT, writes today about contact hours for students in light of a new report from the Swedish Higher Education Authority on teacher-directed learning in higher education. The report is welcome and the students’ involvement is pleasing. Having said that, it is important to underline that contact hours are not an adequate measure of quality, it is far more complicated than that. Indeed, the students interviewed in the article distinguish between quality and contact hours and say they think their instruction is of a good standard. At the same time, they point out that contact with teachers is important.
Given the erosion of direct government funding over a period of many years, it can almost be considered a success that contact hours have not declined more. This has not been achieved without effort. On the contrary, the faculties and departments work continuously to develop the instruction they provide, with a focus on quality. It is not the case that more hours with a teacher automatically mean better instruction. Different types of instruction are more or less appropriate for different subjects and course components, and the key is to use the hours in the most beneficial way for the students. Sometimes a large-scale lecture to a hundred or so students is best, sometimes close instruction or lab sessions in small groups, sometimes individual supervision. More advanced courses, moreover, often need more teacher contact than more basic courses, precisely to support students in deepening their knowledge.
Piecing the puzzle together is a complicated matter and, paradoxically, more teacher-directed hours can result in students having less real contact with their teachers. More large-scale lectures, less individual or small-group instruction. We need to analyse the situation more deeply and to conduct a discussion that involves more than counting hours. Uppsala University has started an ambitious process of quality evaluations of our educational programmes, which we have great hopes for. Also, we have just sent out an invitation to participate in this year’s Student Barometer survey, which will shed further light on this issue.