The National Union of Students (NUS) has criticised the Prime Minister’s plans to cap the number of students on courses the government considers “low value” and warned that the plans would affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds the most.
The proposals, announced today (17th July), would see universities limited in the number of students they can recruit onto courses that are deemed not to result in ‘good outcomes’ for students.
Student leaders said this was another step in the government’s ideologically driven attack on degrees in such fields as the arts and humanities, which could be amongst the courses facing severe cuts under the plans. This is a poorly disguised cut to higher education and will further damage our university system which is already dangerously close to breaking point.
NUS is calling on ministers to instead prioritise supporting students by properly funding all forms of education and significantly boosting cost-of-living support for students.
The policy threatens to exacerbate existing social inequalities. Students from marginalised and under-represented backgrounds, who already face barriers to accessing and remaining in higher education, will be disproportionately affected by these measures. Education should be a transformative tool for social mobility, but limiting opportunities for certain students based on their chosen field of study only reinforces existing disparities.
Additionally, this threatens the future of research in English universities. By constraining the number of people who can engage with certain subjects, we will narrow the research that can be developed in these areas. Whilst it may not produce ‘high economic value’, understanding how the world works and functions allows us to adapt and change to our ever-evolving societies. The future of our social understanding and the breadth of research undertaken in universities will be under threat.
NUS welcomes any additional investment in apprenticeships to give people more choice in how they access their education, but this must come with real commitment to guarantee the quality of the training and education that every apprentice should receive, and to pay all apprentices at least the Living Wage.
NUS UK Vice President for Higher Education, Chloe Field, said:
“This is a tired and shortsighted policy by a Prime Minister and government long out of ideas. Years ago, they suggested differential fees for STEM and non-STEM subjects, and this is just a reheated version of that. Instead of imposing arbitrary caps, the government should focus on enhancing the quality of education across all disciplines and ensuring that students receive relevant and up-to-date knowledge and skills.
“This is the latest attempt to effectively defund courses not deemed economically valuable. This comes from the idea that education has no value aside from an eventual paycheck and that it is merely a pathway into a well-paid job. But such ideas of value undermine the purpose of higher education and betray a flawed understanding of the multifaceted benefits that education offers to individuals and society.
“Supporting and investing in education and students, regardless of their chosen field of study, will lead to a more informed and adaptable workforce that can contribute to the country's long-term prosperity. If the government had students’ interests at heart, it would act to remove the barriers to accessing education – including by increasing cost -of-living support – rather than putting yet more barriers in place.”
“It’s not our fault that the economy is in tatters and there aren’t enough well paid jobs and yet students are being punished yet again by this government. Rather than reducing opportunity in this country the government should be creating more opportunities in the form of education and sustainable jobs for the next generation.”