Why learning resources should be part of tuition fees.

This is the first of a series of three blog posts that discuss why learning resources should be included within student fees. This first post examines the reasons why this would benefit students and universities, the second will discuss objections to this approach and the last will look at what and how resources might be provided. And an obvious disclaimer, JS Group is dedicated to providing solutions that drive student engagement and deliver better outcomes and this often includes providing learning resources. We feel, however, that this experience gives us a potentially valuable perspective.

So what are the main reasons why we believe that more consideration should be given to including learning resources as part of tuition fees? There are four broad reasons:

  • It improves attainment and supports blended learning
  • It supports recruitment
  • It improves retention and progression
  • It addresses hidden costs and is aligned with student opinion

Improving attainment

That having access to high quality learning resources can improve attainment is a fairly non-contentious hypothesis and there are a growing number of case studies that are pointing towards the potential impact and benefit. Pearson, the global education and publishing business, recently shared their Efficacy Reports (www.pearson.com/corporate/efficacy-and-research/reoprts). As Pearson is careful to point out these are initial reports and results will build over time but they do point to a number of positive correlations in tests where students were given individual access to resources. As an example, Pearson partnered with Penn State University on the use of Mastering Physics and found:

“Results showed that students’ average score in Mastering Physics homework assignments was positively and significantly related to the average exam scores and FCI gains”

Cengage have a similar collection of case studies (https://blog.cengage.com/) one of which highlights the impact providing CengageNOW to students studying accountancy at Ivy Tech had on pass rates which went up from 74.5% to 87.5%

Nearer to home, JS Group has been fortunate enough to work with the University of Worcester on their REACH programme. As part of REACH, students on selected courses have been given tablets pre-loaded with course textbooks, quizzes, polling software, educational apps and links to University resources. As reported by Val Yates, Director of Access and Inclusion (see www.face.ac.uk/blog-post/reach-project-university-worcester) early results are encouraging:

  • 98% of students have become regular users of the devices, both in class and outside
  • Levels of satisfaction amongst students participating in the trial is very high, there has been a substantial increase in students feeling engaged with the module (+10%) and satisfaction with feedback helping learning (+23%)
  • Attainment has improved in the trial group; in psychology, for example, there has been an increase of 12% in A grades achieved and a 6% reductions in D grades

And it is not only an improvement in grades but also, as Ross Renton, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students), points out in his Tedx talk, the level of interaction between students and between students and faculty also improved considerably (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfZ3YYsM87c). This is last point is key as blended learning being introduced to deliver more modules. It seems almost axiomatic to state that ensuring students have access to the resources they need to research and discuss topics supports blended learning – as Bill Davies, Head of Law at Worcester comments:

“The tablets have been invaluable in that we have been able to use whatever room we happen to be in – and also we can intersperse legal research into any lesson without having to book a computer lab.”

Supporting recruitment

Obviously if every institution was including resources within fees the benefit in terms of recruitment would be limited, in large part, to encouraging widening participation. As this is not the case, those universities who do offer resources are able to consider the impact on recruitment. Coventry University has offered all students learning resources as part of their Flying Start programme – see https://www.coventry.ac.uk/study-at-coventry/student-support/flying-start/ for more details – and the programme has been a major contributing factor to their impressive increase in undergraduate recruitment.

At another university we work with that offers ring-fenced funds to each student to purchase learning resources, 46% of students stated that the scheme and funding was a positive influence on their decision to apply.

Improving retention and progression

The eBook platform provider Vital Source has been conducting research and case studies in the UK and the US to see whether and how having access to learning resources improves retention. In one case in the US, they found that students who had textbooks at the start of their course were 2.2x more likely to complete the courses than those who did not. Here in the UK, Vital Source worked with Sift Media to get feedback from students at over 100 universities and found that 57% were more confident about progressing because they had access to resources. On the large scale provision we manage, the percentage of students who feel that having resources helps them progress is higher (nearer 80%) but this is on a smaller sample of universities. Going back a few years, the JISC funded report Students FIRST also found that providing funding ring-fenced for learning resources also had a positive impact on retention compared to cash bursaries. This also chimes with the anecdotal feedback we get from all the major learning resources provisions we manage.

Addressing hidden costs and alignment with student opinion

Providing students with their resources as part of their fees will obviously address one of the additional costs of study. Research that JS Group does each year with students on the schemes we manage for universities consistently has high levels (80%+) of responders agreeing that providing resources helped them achieve a better grade and that they would not have been able to acquire as many resources from their own funds.

It is also interesting that the NUS research “Teaching excellence: the student perspective” clearly showed that the top 3 factors student believe should be part of TEF ate:

  • Course resources 94%
  • Library resources 93%
  • IT resources 86%

Providing resources as part of fees is not only consistent with student opinion but also a good investment for the positive impact it would have on recruitment, progression and attainment.

The next post will look at some of the objections to this approach.