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Does the UK have too many students?

Impact Comment poses the question; does the UK have too many students? 

Caroline Chan (@Carro_Chan) argues yes:

Golf Studies at Bucks New University? Wine Studies at Brighton? A degree in Outdoor Leadership at the University of Cumbria? These subjects don’t need to be taught at degree level.

Back when our parents were teenagers, there was a bigger focus on ‘rigorous subjects’ such as the sciences and arts, but now there are so many degree courses available to us that virtually everyone is able to find something to study at university. The problem is that too many teenagers invest three years doing something that is unlikely to lead to a job and will just leave them in mountains of debt.

The Times reported that four out of ten university leavers with degrees in communication and media studies were not in graduate-level employment. Unistats data shows that only 25% of graduates of the BA Events Management course at Bournemouth University that go into employment are in a graduate level job.

Golf Studies at Bucks New University? Wine Studies at Brighton? A degree in Outdoor Leadership at the University of Cumbria? These subjects don’t need to be taught at degree level.

That statistic also applies to the BA Media Studies course at Anglia Ruskin University, where 15% of graduates were unable to get a job at all six months after graduation. HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) figures show that the newer universities have lower employment rates than the traditional redbrick universities. From personal experience, those that studied traditional academic subjects find it easier to land a graduate level job compared to those that did more specific vocational subjects.

Rather that vocational subjects are unimportant or shouldn’t be studied at all, they should be studied in a different way. As an example, if you want to go into journalism, you could do a traditional three year degree or a one year diploma with lots of opportunities for work placements. The latter will be a lot cheaper, the former will leave more doors open if it is in a broader subject.

Rather that vocational subjects are unimportant or shouldn’t be studied at all, they should be studied in a different way.

The University lifestyle of being completely independent is an attraction for many, but is three years of hedonism worth it if you’re not likely to get a good job after? In my opinion, many vocational subjects should not be taught as degrees but as apprenticeships or vocational courses. Apprenticeships include on-the-job training, so you are much more likely to have a job at the end and, even better, in your chosen field.

Ella Funge (@ellafunge) argues no:

Some people would have you believe that British universities these days are stuffed full of entitled brats studying “Mickey Mouse” degrees: overflowing with students who simply aren’t clever or driven enough to be there.

These students would be much better off packing up their Media Studies courses and getting a real, honest job straight out of school. Perhaps many of the institutions offering these courses ought to close altogether, leaving the available funding to a handful of elite universities teaching traditional subjects. Sound familiar?

This kind of thinking is rooted in snobbery.

This kind of thinking is rooted in snobbery. There absolutely is a place for Photography and Media Studies alongside Philosophy and Medicine. Specialist degree courses can provide invaluable training, and any young person who has the passion and motivation to study any subject at a university level should have a space provided for them to do so.

The fact is, we do actually need photographers and golf club managers and in this financial climate, a young person is unlikely to be trained for free. Who can blame the young people taking their future in their own hands and signing up for Golf Management Studies, or Fashion Photography, if that gives them a shot at pursuing their dream?

We do actually need photographers and golf club managers and in this financial climate, a young person is unlikely to be trained for free.

Since the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees, there have been mumblings about whether it might be preferable to go back to the old dual system of universities and their more vocational counterparts, the ‘polytechnics’. But one reason this system failed before was because people did not value the polytechnic ‘brand’ – and in today’s Higher Education market, branding means more than ever.

 In today’s Higher Education market, branding means more than ever.

It seems obvious that keeping more universities open, in order to widen participation and open up higher education to more of the population, can only be a good thing. The more people in our society that have a good breadth of education the better, no matter what job that education is “preparing” them for. The fact that we have more young people in higher education at more institutions than ever before is a cause for celebration, not hand-wringing.

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Image: Tom Reed

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