Students on humanities courses such as History appear to have a higher rate of satisfaction than those doing certain science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
The Augar review of post-18 education in England casts fear over the future of funding for some subjects, especially the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS).
A key worry is that cuts in fees to £7500 may be based only on the economic gain from certain subjects, despire the Augar report claiming there should be consideration as to which subjects are ‘socially desirable’. The review also suggests that with the replacement funding it should be applied ‘to reflect more accurately the subject’s reasonable costs and its social and economic value to students and taxpayers’.
The report highlights big differences between AHSS and STEM subjects.
The latest National Student Survey (NSS) results showed that historical, philosophical and religious studies students had an 89.4% satisfaction with their course, despite typically producing lower-earning graduates. This was closely followed by physical sciences and mathematical sciences at 87.8% and 87.2%, respectively.
At the bottom was computing with 78.1% satisfaction and engineering and technology with 78.6%, subjects which are usually known for having high graduate and earning prospects.
The data shows that there are various complexities to the AHSS and STEM debates. It is not as clear cut as one having higher prospects than the other.
The London Economics study, which analysed employment trends over the past 20 years in the UK, found that AHSS graduates had an hourly pay that was “consistently below that of STEM graduates”, however, social science graduates earned much more than those who took other AHSS degrees.
There was also a gender difference as men ‘in possession of undergraduate degrees in social sciences register a 22 per cent per hour wage premium compared to all other AHSS degree holders, while the corresponding estimate for females stands at approximately 12 per cent’.
The report said that overall, ‘AHSS graduates are more likely to change sector and role voluntarily, and without wage penalty, suggesting greater flexibility and choice than STEM graduates experience.’
British Academy vice-president for research and higher education policy, Roger Kain commented:
AHSS graduates are just as likely to have a job as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates, enjoy similar job security and have more varied careers.Meanwhile, some of the fastest growing sectors in the economy are in the services sector, fuelled in large part by AHSS graduates. If Augar leads to a tuition fee cut and funding top-ups for different subjects, the government must consider the enormous value of our subjects.
Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman said that due to the complexities around course outcomes and their value, the ‘only sensible justification for funding courses differently at the front end is if they cost more to teach’.
He stated that:
No one disagrees that it costs more to teach a medic than a lawyer. Where a course has really poor outcomes against reasonable expectations, then the best way to tackle the problem is through better regulation, more transparent information and a process of self-improvement. If a course remains very poor, that’s not an argument for underfunding it, it’s an argument for posing questions about its future viability.
According to Kain, the British Academy acknowledged variations in the teaching costs of subjects but argued there was ‘not a straightforward distinction between AHSS and STEM subjects’.
He went on to say:
Languages, archaeology, and the performing and creative arts require specialist facilities in the same way as laboratory-based subjects. Moreover, in the growing areas of interdisciplinary provision, AHSS and STEM staff come together to jointly provide courses, and this makes attempts to apportion cost of delivery to subjects highly problematic. Ultimately, we need to value the contribution of all disciplines now and in the future, and we hope that the Augar review leads the next government to a suitable and nuanced higher education policy that reflects this.