Rising student numbers and staffing cuts mean some undergraduates are receiving less academic support, the education quality watchdog has claimed.
Many universities are trying to improve their tutoring arrangements
The Quality Assurance Agency says personal tutoring systems are being strained by university expansion.
The QAA urges action to improve student support in half the 70 English and Northern Irish institutions it audited.
The report comes as it emerged some Bristol university history students receive two hours of lectures a week.
The final year students, who are being charged £1,200 in fees, saw changes in timetabling following a departmental restructuring.
It effectively means they are being charged the equivalent of £20 an hour for teaching, they say.
A report in the university's student newspaper, Epigram, quotes one student as saying: "I thought I was paying to be educated by leading academics, not for library membership and a reading list.
"If I had known I would have gone to a different university."
Bristol's head of history, Dr Brendan Smith, said: "The new syllabus has been introduced at a time when pressures on resources are incredible and we have to make decisions about which forms of teaching will be most stimulating and effective."
Final year history students were offered more than two hours' tuition a week but that most opted to undertake extended research projects he said.
As these dissertations were on a range of very different subjects it only made sense to teach these in one-to-one groups with tutors, he added.
National Union of Students Vice President Wes Streeting said independent study was an important part of higher education but that it should be complimentary to and not a substitute for "contact time" with lecturers.
"Students who pay up to £3,000 in fees alone have every right to demand value for money," he said.
"Of course university courses are all different and there is merit in many different teaching techniques but the bottom line is that students need to be guaranteed support and high standards of teaching as a fair exchange for what is a significant financial outlay," he added.
Last month a survey of more than 15,000 undergraduates, commissioned by the Higher Education Policy Institute, highlighted huge variations in the number of teaching hours for different subjects at different universities.
This varied from around 22 hours for those studying medicine to around eight for students of history or philosophy.
The QAA report, which focuses on academic and personal support, says although there are many features of good practice few relate to personal tutoring.
The most frequent criticism relates to the variability and infrequency of meetings between tutors and their students.
It also criticises tutorial systems that rely on the student rather than the tutor to arrange meetings.
It adds: "In general, it is clear from the reports that some personal tutoring systems have been placed under strain by expansion in student numbers, decreased staffing levels and other factors."
But it adds that many universities have recognised their weaknesses in tutoring arrangements and are in the process of reviewing them.