Theresa May’s decision to charge students less for ‘softer’ arts degrees that don’t translate to good job prospects is entirely logical but, if it goes ahead, such a drastic change will destroy many universities, leaving them underfunded, worthless and no longer viable.
I agree in principle that incurring a 50K debt on a course that leads to a 20K job makes no sense economically, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a student graduating with a Chemistry degree (usually) has better, well-paid job prospects than a young person with a qualification in Film Studies.
However, for the Tories to decide to mess around with fees now, when universities have expanded arts courses and recruited heavily for those in order to subsidise more ‘serious’ courses, which need specialist equipment and highly-qualified lecturers, would spell disaster. As Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK told The Sunday Times: “Unless the government replaced the money, it would mean bigger class sizes, poorer facilities and less student choice.”
Arts courses would disappear as students – even those with a burning passion to study the subject – would perceive the ‘bargain bin’ qualifications as sub-standard and a waste of money.
Universities would have to look elsewhere for funding. That would be higher fees for some or by recruiting overseas. Education Secretary Damian Hinds has suggested the latter, which is odd considering May’s immigration policy. So, what are we saying? We’ve got some courses here that aren’t worth much to British youngsters but we’d happily charge you, Chinese student, a fortune to come over and study them? Does he really think international students are that daft? Of course not. They’ll look to Europe, Australia, Canada or the US for their education. It’s inevitable some of our universities would close.
Higher education would be seen entirely in monetary value. Or, even worse, be valued by the government. Hinds has come up with an over-simplified tick box to determine how courses are assessed.
What is the cost of the course to the university? Fine. This is measurable. What is the benefit to the student? Now, can the government really attribute a value to each student, assume their aims and ambitions and then dictate what is or isn’t allowed to be studied? And finally, what is the benefit to the economy? Is this in monetary terms or cultural benefit? I assume learning in any fashion is of benefit. Our Chemistry graduate may go on to develop a cure for cancer whereas our Film student could direct a movie that gives people an awful lot of pleasure.
Equally, both students could end up working in a bar.
Education is such an integral part of society that this proposed change, from one extreme to another, will do more damage than good. In my view, such changes should be brought in gradually, over time.