MyTutor is a platform which an estimated 500 Cambridge students use to teachOLIVER RHODES

Figures from MyTutor, the largest online tutoring platform in the UK, indicate that over 500 Cambridge students currently use the platform to earn extra income, of a total of 8500 students drawn from 25 British universities.

Figures from the Sutton Trust further indicate that around a quarter of high-school students received some form of private tuition in 2018, of which a rising proportion is online tutoring.

Varsity reached out to Cambridge students to gauge their experiences with online tutoring, both as tutors and tutees.

The University’s guidance on financial support states that “students should not work during term-time – it’s important that you have an appropriate work-life balance, and we offer a wide range of financial support to ensure you don’t have to.”

Offering cheaper rates to tutees, MyTutor is the most popular online tutoring platform in the UK, catering to the wider demand for tuition for UK-based qualifications.

Daniel Mayers, a second-year geographer at Downing College, has been teaching A-level Geography and a range of GCSE subjects on MyTutor since early 2018. He tutors primarily because it provides a flexible source of income during term. For GCSE-level tuition, which constitutes around 60% of the platform’s demand, Mayers began by charging £18 per session, which translated into a take-home pay of £10 after platform deductions. Tutors price their lessons according to bands, and can raise their prices after acquiring sufficient experience.

The minimum rate of hourly earnings of online tutoring is therefore higher than that of most other forms of work available to students. Wages at college bars vary between colleges, with Downing paying £8.50 per hour while Emmanuel offers just £5.90 per hour.

One student, who wished to remain anonymous earned £30 an hour tutoring the International Baccalaureate on the platform Elite IB. Their clients, who were mostly international students, paid between £40 and £45 for each session. “I have no intention of becoming a teacher – but it pays well,” they told Varsity.

Elite IB selects tutors on the basis of academic credentials and a video interview. “If you’re at Cambridge they basically give you a place on the platform,” they said, adding that mentioning their institution in introductory messages helped them gain clients.

A University spokesperson stated that “no one should feel compelled to take extra work on because of financial difficulties. The University runs its own mentoring schemes as part of its widening participation and outreach activities and many students are actively involved in these.”

According to the co-founder of MyTutor, James Grant, by mitigating travel costs and increasing the pool of tutors, online tutoring also provides a much cheaper service for tutees: “I see it as an important part of making education more accessible.”

“These students are sharing expertise which is there for just a few years, because most people don’t want to be become teachers necessarily”, he said, arguing that while “earning some money on the side can be really useful to pay maintenance costs, a lot of our tutors do it because they like helping people.”

When asked to evaluate the quality of their tuition, the students contacted by Varsity were sceptical about their performance. “Sometimes people think they’re going to, you know, ‘make a difference’, but with online tutoring you just don’t have the same connection with the person you’re tutoring,” Mayers said. “If it was someone you were teaching face-to-face, you’d have much more of a desire to see them do well.”

While Elite IB states on its website that “we expect every tutor who approaches us to have extensive tutoring experience and outstanding testimonies from former students,” the student interviewed did not have any teaching experience before applying and has no intention of becoming a teacher. “We would go through past paper questions and anything they were confused about in class,” they said. “I basically just used my IB notes.”

Marius Sheldon, Growth Manager at MyTutor, told Varsity that as a “marketplace business”, MyTutor uses a consumer-led review service which has “very direct implications for the tutor to do work in the future.” Of 92,520 tutor reviews on the MyTutor website, 89,408 (97%) were rated ‘5 stars’.

Varsity also got in touch with first-years who had used online tutoring before arriving at Cambridge. One maths student, who wished to remain anonymous, used both a home tutor and a freelance online tutor to assist in preparations for the Sixth Term Examination Papers (STEP), one of the requirements to study Maths at Cambridge.

“It’s surprising how much it often comes from the kids [rather] than from the parents”

They paid their home tutor £30 per two-hour session, and their online tutor £70 per one-hour session. “When you’re at school, since you’re with a wide range of abilities, it’s hard for teachers to tutor you individually, but what I was hoping with online tutoring was that I could have someone going at my pace,” they said.

The online tutor, who had previously been a lecturer at LSE before establishing their own tutoring website, “taught everyone in the same way – we all did the same questions and she had the same notes for all of us.” Sessions were conducted as group video calls with other students. “I never got to the point where I felt like I could ask anything, because of the time pressure: one hour meant one hour,” they said.

By contrast, their home tutor, a former university lecturer, “just did it in his house – it was like a supervision and got very conversational at times. I got the chance to ask a lot of questions.”

Online tutoring is becoming a wider part of students’ efforts to access higher education. “It’s surprising how much it often comes from the kids [rather] than from the parents,” argues Mayers, who described a “massive range” of backgrounds among his clientele. “I’d assume that parents from wealthy backgrounds would want someone face-to-face, because as far as tutoring goes, my tutoring is cheap as hell.”

While MyTutor does not hold data on the demographics of its users, Grant told Varsity that the removal of geographical barriers to tuition has ultimately increased the supply of tutors and “democratised learning”.

Over 300 schools use MyTutor to complement classroom teaching, constituting around 45% of the company’s business. “If you think about schools, especially outside major cities, they’re not going to be able to provide one-to-one support for a physics class on a Wednesday afternoon,” Grant said. “By moving tuition online, we’re accessing the most deprived schools where they’re less likely to find the expertise.”

The social enterprise Project Access uses online tutoring to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds access top-tier institutions. Unlike commercial platforms, Project Access is free for prospective students to use.


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Kyra Chong, a second-year lawyer at Corpus Christi and the organisation’s coordinator at Cambridge, told Varsity that Project Access arranges “mentors” for prospective students, who offer monthly one-to-one sessions on the admissions process, interview preparation, and “helping them get to know the university and their subject.”

Kyra had previously tutored students from international schools in Lebanon, India and Switzerland on Elite IB. “You have a much more personal attachment to your tutee because there’s not that commercial element – you’re just offering them your free time.”

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