All degrees are created equal, or at least that’s how they were perceived when it came to studying in the UK. When you take a harder look at the data behind the degrees though, it soon becomes apparent that what you study has a real impact on what you earn.
In 2017, the BBC reported that graduates of Russell Group Universities earn an average of £33,500 after five years – 40% more than those who studied at other institutions.
Then there’s the content of a degree. Research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies also reported by the BBC, showed that graduates of medicine and dentistry earn an average of £46,700 five years after graduating, while those who studied economics take home £40,000. In comparison, creative arts graduates take home £20,100, agriculture £22,000, and mass communication £22,300.
So with this in mind you might have heard plans from Theresa May, who, earlier this year, said she wanted to make universities charge less for some courses (i.e. arts, humanities and creative courses) based on their study costs and potential graduate earnings. Some people thought it was a fantastic idea, with educators within these sectors lauding the proposal as necessary and overdue. But the Prime Minister’s critics (many of whom were within her own party) branded the move unfair and unworkable.
So should some degrees cost more than others? We way up the arguments below…
It could even out education inequality
May’s proposal, she said, is to ensure that University isn’t reserved for the middle classes. According to the Guardian, May said charging less for some degrees would widen access to university. “It’s not made easier by a funding system which leaves students from the lowest-income households bearing the highest levels of debt” they reported her as saying. “Many graduates [are] left questioning the return they get for their investment.”
You’re not better off in many cases
As Which notes, if you opt for a course that costs £7,500, you have a tuition fee loan of £22,500 over three years. If you have £9,000 course fees, a tuition fee loan of £27,000 is spread over over three years. You may save £4,500 by taking the cheaper course. But he amount you pay back per year depends on your salary, not on the amount you borrowed. Some graduates will never have to repay the full amount if they don’t earn the required amount, so the initial saving of £4,500 won’t help in the main.
It could decrease diversity in certain job sectors
Grazia reports that research from WISE (the campaign for gender balance in science, technology and engineering) discovered that only 23% of workers in STEM industries are women. WISE research has also found that only 9% of young women want to study maths, physics, computer science or engineering at degree level, compared to 29% of men. If we start charging more for Maths and Science courses, it’s likely the spread of people in these sectors will become more restricted.
It could make things more unfair in the long-run
As Martin Lewis reports, student loans actually get written off if you’re unable to repay the amount in full by a certain cut-off date after graduation (30 years post-graduation in England, 25 in Northern Ireland). Making some degrees cost more than others will create a more uneven financial playing field for graduates – some will be facing a longer period of being in debt than others, which could dramatically effect their chances of being eligible for certain loans and mortgages.
It could harm the economy
As Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary pointed out, “making Maths degrees more expensive flies in the face of what our economy’s going to need in the future. As part of our industrial strategy we need to ensure that we get more students on those courses.” Wi
It may force people to take degrees they don’t want to do
May wants to alter the cost of certain degrees to make education accessible for people from a wide cross-section of society, but will her proposals actually make any difference? How will the kid from the lower-income family be affected if they want to study maths or science, but are put off by the higher costs up front? Will that mean they end up opting for a course that doesn’t really interest them?
Clearly, there needs to be a nuanced, balanced discussion surrounding the idea of some degrees costing more than others before the government tries to undo the problems they created when they rushed into raising tuition fees in 2012. May’s proposals seem like a good idea on the surface, but their impact could be more harmful than helpful.
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