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The Open University’s Centre for Higher Education Research and Information (CHERI) was commissioned by HEFCE to undertake a study on diversity in students’ study experiences and the time devoted to it. The study aims to examine international differences in the student experience, based both on a review of literature and on the re-analysis of existing data on students collected as part of two recent studies. The main focus is the hours students devote to study activity, but the investigation also takes account of other factors and different ways of thinking about the student experience.

CHERI found that there are undoubted differences in both the extent and the nature of the engagement of students with their studies in higher education: both differences between individuals and, to some extent, differences related to the subjects studied and to the kinds of institutions attended.

In particular the study found that there is evidence to support the view that UK students spend fewer hours each week on their studies (broadly defined) than students in other European countries. But although there is evidence of a relationship between time spent on university studies and a successful learning outcome, the relationship is not particularly strong. The study also found that just because there are differences in experience does not necessarily mean these experiences are in deficit, and that there are considerable commonalities in the experiences of students across UK higher education's increasingly diversified landscape.

The study makes an important contribution to existing debates on contact hours and the student experience more broadly, and will help inform HEFCE's ongoing thinking about quality assurance arrangements. In particular the study will form part of the information and evidence considered by the sub-committee of our strategic committee for learning and teaching that is examining matters relating to quality assurance, and the extent to which we are fulfilling our statutory responsibility in this area. The findings of that sub-committee will then inform our discussions with Universities UK and GuildHE about the future of the Quality Assurance Framework. We expect the sub-committee to complete its work by June 2009.