Students nearly as effective as professors at university teaching, economists find

Researchers have found students are almost as good as professors when it comes to teaching at university.

Many universities around the world rely heavily on student instructors for tutorials but, until now, their effectiveness has not been measured.

Melbourne Institute’s Nicolas Salamanca worked with colleagues at Victoria University in New Zealand and the Institute on Behavior & Inequality (briq) in Germany to examine the success rate of student instructors at Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics in The Netherlands.

The student teachers – all enrolled in Bachelor or Masters courses - taught small groups of students in tutorials, exercise or lab sessions. The researchers found the students were almost as effective as professors in improving students’ short and long-term academic achievements, as well as their job prospects.

There was hardly any difference in the grades of those taught by students and those taught by professors. On top of this, we found the students themselves generally rated the student teachers as highly as the more senior staff.

Dr Nicolas Salamanca

Dr Salamanca says it’s possible the student teachers may be able to better relate to students.

Many of them also have the course material fresh in their heads – potentially making them better equipped at explaining it.

Dr Salamanca says the results should not take away from the wealth of experience and knowledge senior teachers bring to the role.

However, he says the research shows student instructors can be an effective tool for universities to reduce costs.

Student instructors are four times less expensive than a newly hired assistant professor, and five times less expensive than full professors in the lowest salary scale in Maastricht. The search and hiring costs of student instructors are also close to nothing.
They can easily be recruited from the constantly renewing pool of students taking courses, and they can do short-term contracts to cover teaching staff gaps.
In summary, we have shown that student instructors are an elastic, convenient and cost efficient labour force for universities which could be used without compromising on quality.

You can read the full research here.