Students at Oxford University are arguing that the school is requiring them to write too many essays compared to their peers who are enrolled at similar courses in the same university.
Undergraduates at the school complained of the workload required of them to an external review, saying that in some cases they were required to submit as many as three essays a week, while peers in similar courses in other colleges only had to write one.
Upon completion of the review, the UK's Quality Assurance Agency ordered the university to fix the problem by evening out the number of tutorials and essays required. It is currently left up to college tutors to decide upon an appropriate level of work for students to comple as well as the number of seminars that must be attended.
Undergraduates at the school are taught through a tutorial method of teaching either as individuals or in groups of two or three, with academics assigning them work to complete. While the review found students were typically positive about their essays and the support they receive from their tutors, they complained about the difference in the level of coursework expected of students in the same program but in different colleges, writes Hatty Collier for The Evening Standard.
The review quotes undergraduates at the school saying "rigour is lost to excessive workloads" and that "little parity across the colleges" exists pertaining to the number of assignments students are required to complete.
In addition, the QAA discovered that although university guidance for the approval of new courses and major changes to existing ones does require that student workload be taken into account, it does not say anything about the number of teaching hours or the number of assignments. The review states that doing so allows for a wide variation between colleges.
"There are instances where students are set three essays in one week; at those levels, that's clearly at the detriment of rigour, welfare and pedagogy. At that point, you are very much an essay machine; you are meeting deadlines rather than having time to learn and to reflect on what you are meant to be learning," said Cat Jones, vice-president for access and academic affairs at the Oxford University Student Union.
Jones went on to say that some students are working more than 50-60 hours per week, writes Josie Gurney-Read for The Telegraph.
QAA suggests that instead of leaving the course load up to individual tutors at the university, it should be placed under an institution-wide guidance.
"We are already at work on the report's three recommendations, including the provision of more information about the teaching patterns that students can expect on each course. The QAA commends Oxford on the quality of its student representation on educational matters, and we will use these strong links to discuss and respond to particular workload concerns," said an Oxford University spokesperson.