Council of University Classical Departments

Contact hours

The Government HE reforms of 2010–11 have raised the question of what universities provide to students in return for the higher student fees. CUCD endorses the description of the contents of a Classics/Classical Studies/Ancient History degree course given in the QAA Benchmarking document (2000, revised 2006).

In that document section 2.1.5 sets out the expectation that these degrees will characteristically offer opportunities (we cite only the headlines):

It stresses in section 2.1.6 that these degrees have a distinctive concern with:

study through primary materials: literary, documentary, archaeological.

It stresses (3.3) that honours graduates in these subject areas will characteristically:

It lists as the cognitive attributes acquired by graduates from these degrees (3.4):

It is clear from this description that the acquisition of these skills and attributes involves a very significant amount of independent work, gathering evidence both textual and non-textual, analysing the evidence gathered, and using the evidence so analysed in argument. It is the role of lectures, seminars, classes and tutorials to indicate the appropriate sources of evidence, to offer exemplary guidance in modes of analysis, and to suggest some of the sorts of ways in which evidence can be used in argument. But the acquisition of the transferable skills listed in 3.5, viz.:

requires that undergraduate students can devote time to working on their own, ordering data that they have gathered in the ways most effective for the form of presentation required.

The precise balance between time spent in lectures, classes etc. and in independent study is something that needs to be determined by the professional judgement of the teacher in the light of the prior skills and capacities of the student. But acquisition of the desired attributes is seriously threatened by any situation in which contact hours exceed 15% of the study time involved, and in most situations the level of contact hours should be in the region of 10%.

There is only one aspect of a Classics/Classical Studies/Ancient History degree which demands a different balance of contact hours and independent study. This is the first-listed opportunity in 2.1.5, viz

The complexity of these languages, and the immediate feedback required to enable the efficient development of linguistic command, mean that in the case of language courses contact hours comprising 15% of study time will normally be a minimum rather than a maximum, and it may be appropriate, particularly in the early stages of language learning, that contact hours should comprise up to 30% of the study time.