Do uni class sizes matter?

Should we worry that uni student numbers have grown more quickly than academic staff numbers? The history of school research on student:staff ratios suggest that we should be cautious about making lower SSRs a policy priority. Most analysis has found little or no educational benefit in reducing school student:staff ratios. Increased SSRs may be a sign of higher productivity rather than a problem.

Given that uni students are supposed to be more independent learners than schools students, universities (with rare exceptions like the Oxbridge tutorial system) have always used large groups methods of instruction such as lectures. Unis can teach many more people at the same time than schools.

On interesting question is whether if the class expands beyond the size where personal interaction is feasible, does it matter whether there are 100, 200, 300 or more students in the room? If, as the school research suggests, it is teacher quality that matters most to learning it might be better to have the best lecturer teach a class of 300 than to have six not-so-good lecturers take six classes of 50. Continue reading “Do uni class sizes matter?”

Are student:staff ratios a useful university indicator?

Universities often complain about rising student:staff ratios. These rose from around 14:1 in 1990 to around 21:1 in 2007.* By contrast in schools student:staff ratios declined from 15.4:1 to 13.9 to 1.

But what does a student:staff ratio actually mean for teaching in a university context? In schools, a student:staff ratio of 14:1 will often mean just that – than in the average school, there are 14 students for every 1 member of the teaching staff.

In universities that isn’t the case. A student:staff ratio of 21:1 means 21 full-time equivalent students (EFTSL) to each full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching or teaching/research staff member. Due to part-time uni students, there are 1.4 persons for every EFTSL. But due to casualisation of university teaching staff, according to a report in the Higher Education Supplement one staff FTE could be 7 or 8 casuals (they represent about 20% of FTE teaching staff). So on a person to person basis, the university student:staff ratio is likely to be less than 21:1. Continue reading “Are student:staff ratios a useful university indicator?”