6.10 The cost of improved teaching

As I write this section the UK is just (I hope) emerging from recession and the coalition government is considering how to take more than £1011 out of the economy. This will undoubtedly involve reducing the per-student central spend on universities. There was a parallel working group (led by an engineer, Lord Browne) which looked at the possible level of student fees in the UK, but although a fee level capped at £9k per year has now been set, it seems politically unlikely that this will result in a higher amount being available to teach engineering undergraduates. I mentioned earlier (Chapter 4.5) the RAEng study which resulted in the report ‘Engineering Graduates for Industry’. This group found it difficult to identify the true cost of an engineering education, but let’s put that on one side and consider the items you would need to fund in order to be able to improve engineering education in some of the ways implied in this book.

Assume that you are responsible for the delivery of modules, each with an average of 50 students, and that the students take 8 such modules in a typical year.  The cost of the things you and your colleagues might want to do to improve teaching (some of which are listed below) need to be spread over the number of years they last, and the number of students.

 List of potential teaching improvement activities

A teaching assistant (TA) or vacation student to help revise your module – say once every 5 years;  A TA to help with marking and feedback; Software licences for those few good products which are not open; Travel to and attendance at one network (e.g. CDIO) meeting per year;  Real materials for design-build projects (not needed for every module); A set of clickers (not needed in the age of the smartphone);  Refurbishment of teaching spaces to provide more flexibility (20 year life).

Even if the last item appears to be large – perhaps £200k – it is amortized over 20 years and hundreds of students.  It is hard to make the list above add up to more than £3-500 per student per year.

So the true cost at School  level of greatly enhancing the students’ learning experience is around £400 per student per year. This is not a lot, in the context of the total cost of between £10000 and £15000 per student per year. It is an increase of 5% or less. Even in the UK context of Full Economic Costing (FEC) this implies an increase in the fee required to study engineering of about £1000 per year. I make no comment on the political reality of achieving this.

End of chapter: (please leave a comment)

One Response to “6.10 The cost of improved teaching”

  1. Peter Goodhew

    The figure of £10^11 got through to the printed version as £1011, but here is the advantage of a print-on-demand text. I will change it in the on-line pdf and the next time someone buys a copy it will have been corrected.


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