London: Students at the elite Oxford University have complained that they are being forced to
submit too many essays in comparison with peers studying similar courses at different colleges in the varsity.
Undergraduates at the university protested about the uneven workload to an external review that some of them were expected to write up to three essays a week while others submitted only one for the same course.
The UK's Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), conducting the review, has said this week that the university must even out disparity in the number of tutorials and essays set by colleges.
In their regular review of the institution, QAA quotes Oxford under-graduates as saying that "rigour is lost to excessive workloads" and that there is "little parity across the colleges" on the number of tutorials and assignments that a student must complete.
The watchdog found that while university guidance on approval of new courses and major changes to existing ones includes a requirement to consider student workload, it "stops short of prescribing it in terms of number of teaching hours and volume of assessment", leaving open the possibility of significant variation between colleges and tutors.
"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," Cat Jones, vice-president for access and academic affairs at the Oxford University Student Union, told Times Higher Education.
QAA recommends that student workload, which at the moment at the discretion of individual tutors at Oxford, should become the subject of institution-wide guidance for the first time.
"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.