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Is university like a 9am to 5pm job? Study hours explained.

University study hours explained

The average working week in the UK is 35 hours a week.  The amount of time an employee works is contracted and they are usually physically present per day in a working space such as an office, shop, factory etc.It is not as easy to calculate the working week for a student studying at university as being at university is not like being at school or work where you are present in an office or classroom for a dedicated number of hours a day.

I will explain how a university in the UK teaches their students.

Contact hours

At University there are contact hours.  These are the times when you are physically in university in a teaching scenario.  There are varying teaching scenarios which vary between courses.

So what are the teaching scenarios? Courses will use a mix of the below.

Lectures: larger gatherings usually within a lecture theatre (sometimes 100 students or more) where you are spoken to. You will primarily listen and take notes. The lectures will be given by lecturers (academics) who are specialist in the subject of the lecture. For example,  in a business degree a lecture may focus on marketing and be taken by an academic who specialises in marketing principles.  Lectures guide subject matter that needs to be learnt. It provides direction and a framework. Students are expected to read further in their own study time.

Seminars: small groups (usually around 10-20 students) where you are expected to have done the reading or prepatory work to discuss in the seminar.  Seminars are interactive requiring you to input your ideas and opinions, and often delves further in a lecture topic.

Tutorials: a few students, and some times it ill be just you and your tutor. A tutorial is extremely focused, usually on a particular essay or discussion topic. The aim is to review your answers or theories and explore ideas that arise in discussion. A tutorial relies on the exchange of ideas between you, your tutor and other students.

One-to-ones: students are assigned a personal tutor who is there as a guide to check you are on the right path with regards to your study and is their to offer academic advice and direction.

Practicals / workshops:  vary depending on the course but they are generally practical hands-on time work that take place in a lab or a studio pace. They are often supervised by a tutor.

On average, students will have between 12-15 hours of contact time a week. Some university courses may be lower, others may be higher by one to two hours.

Examples of course differences:
Most sciences will involve lengthy spells in the lab or the workshop, as well as time in class. Law students can expect to be busy with  seminars and lectures. Performing arts and art and design courses are also pretty full-on options; fewer lectures, but will have plenty of practicals with a tutor on hand.

Universities and courses vary in the use of the above techniques in delivering learning.  An example of how a university course may describe the teaching:
“First years attend seven hours of timetabled lectures per week, a one hour tutorial most weeks, a one hour workshop, and a two/three hour workshop session each week. So there are around 11-12 hours contact time each week.”

Group work

Being able to work as part of a team is often a requirement stipulated in a job advert.  Many universities see acknowledge that group work activities are an important part of a student’s learning experience.

By sharing your ideas and experiences with others in your group, you are granting yourself the opportunity to meet new people and share the workload of a large project. Group work is also a good chance to make use of your academic strengths and work on improving any weaknesses.

Not all university courses will require you to partake in group work.  Other subjects, for example Events Management, will be heavily assessed on your group working ability.

Group work will require you to meet with your student colleagues to discuss, plan and implement the task at hand.  This will require meetings and other time that is difficult to state.  This time is additional to the contact time of the course and could be several or more hours a week.

Self-directed study

University in the UK is different to high school in that you must advance your study independently.  At high school you will be in school every day, told exactly what you need to learn, and do specific homework.

University teaching is about giving you the foundation of knowledge which you then build upon. You will be guided and will be given essays and projects to complete. You will use what you have learnt in lectures, seminars etc. but to get the higher marks you must demonstrate additional reading and learning. This additional reading and learning is known as ‘self-directed study’ and is done outside of the contact time.

How much you do is up to you.  At a UK university you are treated as an adult.  The more you do, the likelihood you will get a better mark.  I will follow this article with the marking criteria for a university.

This may be a new way of learning for you but it is a great time in your life where you can really express your opinion.

Compare and contrast

Throughout this article I have often written, “this will vary between universities and courses”.  There are over 100 universities in the UK and they may offer the same titled subject but they will have varying focus and ways of teaching.  It is therefore important for you to look at each course description, the modules to be taught and how they will be taught and assessed.

Also, take a look at the facilities and any supporting services a university can offer.  For example, an art and design course will provide you with your own practice time. Do you get your own working space in the university?  Also, are there technicians about to help you?

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