Infographic: Meilan Solly

One of the most important questions a student at the University of St Andrews faces every day is this: to attend class(es) or not to? Is it worth leaving a warm bed (and maybe warm room) to drag oneself to a lecture or tutorial?

The financial cost of skipping class may encourage students to answer the second question with a resounding yes. To calculate the true cost of a missed sub-honours lesson, The Saint attributed the financial value of tuition to attending lectures and tutorials, as represented by scheduled learning hours; assumed that lectures and tutorials have equal financial and academic value; and did not account for guided independent study hours given their variability by student. Also, note that costs are approximations, not averages.

The 2015-2016 academic year tuition fees are as follows: Scottish and EU students pay £0.00 a year for all courses, as the Student Awards Agency for Scotland covers their fees. Both Scottish and EU students must apply to receive SAAS grants. RUK students pay £9,000 a year. Overseas students’ fees are split into two groups: arts, divinity and science students pay £17,040, while medicine students pay £24,500 per annum.

When these figures are further broken down into individual course fees, the actual price per course becomes clearer. The method used to calculate these tuition fees is very basic and uses the following equation: (Annual Tuition Fees/2)/Total Contact Hours.

For arts students, we can use an English student as an example and speculate that the student will take three modules in accordance with their course, each prescribing three lectures and one tutorial per week. We can then conclude that the student will have a total of 132 contact hours over the 11-week semester.

Then it simply becomes a matter of division to calculate the value of those contact hours. For RUK students, the calculation is: £9,000/2 = £4,500, and then £4,500/132 = £34.09 per hour.

Overseas students pay twice this number, as their annual fee is £17,040, which when divided by two and then by the number of contact hours comes to £64.55 per contact hour.

For science students, if we assume that the student takes three pure science modules (i.e. physics, chemistry and biology) and each demands about 88 contact hours, then that student will have 264 contact hours in a semester. This results in RUK students paying £17.05 per contact hour.

Again, with overseas students paying double the fee of RUK students, they can expect to pay (£17,040/2)/264, which equals £32.27 per contact hour, a figure which is still less than that of RUK arts students.

If we consider a first year medicine student who has two modules over the whole year (one per semester) with 250 contact hours each, the equation for RUK students will be as follows: (£9,000/2)/250 = £18.00 per contact hour. For overseas students, the equation will be (£24,500/2)/250 = £49.00 per contact hour. This figure is due to medicine students paying much higher fees than for any other course, and also still having less hours than a pure science student would.

Considering these figures, it could be safe to say that in terms of subjects, arts students stand to lose the most financially when skipping lectures or tutorials, while medicine students lose the least. Geographically speaking, overseas students lose the most, and Scottish students lose the least.

However, it must be acknowledged that there are costs to skipping class apart from just the financial. Honora Bartlett, an English lecturer, said that attending lectures results in lecturers getting to know their students, which leads to good references when applying for postgraduate degrees or jobs.

She said: “When writing references for students, if I can say that his or her attendance was good and that they were well-prepared for tutorials, a reference simply flows. I have been able to write very strong references for students whose marks by themselves might not have attracted postgrad programmes’ or employers’ attention when I could comment that their attendance gave me a high idea of their commitment and character, which it does.”

These comments add a new perspective to the debate on class attendance: though the financial costs may not be (to some) considerable, a student’s future prospects can often rest on a tutor’s reference, especially when they may not be excelling academically. It should also be noted that for several courses, academic prowess often rests on attendance, due to lecturers offering helpful advice for exams, amongst other tips.

Divinity professor Alan Torrance argued: “There is a direct correlation between attendance in my classes and how well students [perform] in the exams. This is because I can cover the material [and] introduce students to the key arguments.”

He also stated that class attendance provides another academic skill, namely the ability to listen, process and appropriate information, a vital skill both in academia and in the professional world. Attendance engenders discipline and meticulousness, again two traits that can only lead to success in the professional sphere.

Of course, the most obvious cost of skipping class is this: missing out on the lecturer’s insights. At university, lecturers are chosen from the highest calibre. They are typically experts in their field, and the view that a student would have a greater understanding of the topic than the lecturer is arguably hubristic.

Dr Kleanthis Mantzouranis of the classics department shared this perspective: “A missed class is a missed opportunity to learn more about the subject and to gain from the expertise of specialists on it, to exchange ideas, address concerns, ask questions and interact with tutors and colleagues.”

In addition to this, Dr Mantzouranis reminds us that missed classes can result in a protracted length of self- study, which in addition to being less useful than attending lectures both in terms of time and understanding, could also result in inferior academic results.

This could potentially have repercussions on other financial aspects of student life, such as funding, living and discretionary expenses, and even missed career opportunities, thus invalidating the argument that skipping lectures is a better use of time.

Finally, the most convincing argument for attending lectures at St Andrews: several schools at the University monitor and mandate attendance, and by missing too many classes a student runs the risk of ei- ther losing the opportunity to take the exam or simply receiving 0X on the module (even after taking the exam). This would have the ironic result of requiring the student to either take a fourth module in the following semester or even retake the whole year. Both consequences waste more of the student’s time, thus increasing the cost of their tuition fees.

5 COMMENTS

  1. This article reads as entirely inaccurate. Tuition fees do not just cover contact hours. They cover student services, careers advice, library and computer facilities, departmental resources, chaplaincy services, subsidise the Union, and I am sure quite a few other things. We are fortunate to receive a wide range of services and subsidies from the university. Of course, there is a lot of external fundraising, but it is naive to think that tuition only covers lectures and tutorials.

  2. Skipping a tutorial doesn’t cost you any money. Skipping a tutorial could even gain you sleep, or be the outcome of meeting someone you had the best sex of your life with. Or you could spend that time frolicking at the beach, or, god forbid, do some research and some actual thinking and write a sane article.

    Skipping a tutorial by itself is probably a sign of a healthy life as opposed to a “cost factor” or anything that needs to be discouraged.

    Students are supposed to be independent grown ups. If you skip a tutorial, I (as someone who teaches) don’t mind. You’re supposed to learn stuff you’re interested in, not do things I tell you.

    The fact that my salary is paid (in some fractional part) from your fees only comes as a convenience, I am not in the business of producing graduates, I provide a public service.

    • Skipping a tutorial may be less of a problem financially, but it has a big impact on the student’s outcome for the course. Attendance at tutorials is required, often with one ‘free’ absence per semester. However, if a student misses too many (this varies by course, I believe), that student will fail to meet the requirements to sit the exam. Students also miss valuable discussions on the material, which can hurt their marks on both continuous assessment and exams.
      I teach tutorials too. I definitely mind when students miss tutorials. It means fewer students are present to take part in discussions, which hurts the experience of the students who can be bothered to attend. Tutorials are also useful to answer any questions or clarify any misunderstandings from the lectures and reading. Tutorials are also great practice for low-stakes group speaking, a valuable skill that students have the opportunity to develop now and take with them when they enter the workforce.
      Call me a nerd, but I believe that academics is more important than a social life. Students are supposed to come to university to learn and get a degree. That’s the purpose of university. Otherwise it’s a very expensive 4 years to simply party.

      • I think university is more than just getting a degree, but as someone who regularly skipped tutorials, I become very aware of how useful they were. To be able to do it all again, I’d gleefully swap that Netflix session at 2am for the 10am tutorial.

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