Next week, I will be teaching my first tutorials at Oxford University (the subject is philosophy of cognitive science). For those unfamiliar with the format, tutorials are one of the forms of teaching at Oxford that every undergraduate has. A lecturer and a student (or a small group of students, maximum 4) convene every week, and the student is guided and gets intensive feedback on the fruits of their independent study. A common procedure is that the student writes a brief paper each week, which they present at the start of the tutorial. The tutor suggests further reading, urges the student to think and to read on the basis of what they have said. There is no lecturing as such going on - it is rather a form of guided self-study.
Tutorials are sometimes misunderstood as a form of hand-holding or spoon-feeding the student, but in fact the format encourages independence and responsibility. The student has to make sure to do all the reading, digest it, and be able to do the final exam on the basis of it. As it's one-on-one (up to four) it is hard to hide and resort to shortcuts instead of actually doing the reading and the thinking. Tutors get support and training in how to guide students on the right track if they slack or lose motivation; timely interventions make sure the attrition rate and failure rate is very low.
Oxford's vice chancellor says the system will ultimately become too expensive, as tutorials cost more per student than the yearly tuition fees, which are capped at 9000 GBP . Educating an Oxford student costs about 16,000 GBP per student, which leaves a gap of 7000 GBP which is filled by various money-sources such as the endowments of colleges. His suggestion is to increase tuition fees - we know the outcome of unbridled student tuition fee increases - and it is a grim prospect. So one may wonder whether the tutorial is an institution worth preserving, given the costs.