Opinion: Eliminating college degree choices will limit opportunities


The potential for GAINS was not a priority of mine when I applied to read English at university. I was more interested in having my own electric kettle.

A kettle, a few pieces of crockery and a few saucepans symbolized the independence of the university. Living away from home, cooking for myself, using a laundromat, cheap pints at the Student Union bar, late night house parties and making new friends over endless cups of tea – all this meant as much to me as my university course.

Did studying English literature for three years lead to a lucrative career? Barely. After graduating I was a lowly temp in London for months, barely able to afford a tin of beans, before coming home and getting a job in a weekly newspaper, earning £80 per week (we were paid every Thursday, in cash in a brown envelope). With no formal training available, I then took a six-month post-graduate journalism course, which I had to save for because Bradford council rejected my application for funding (apparently it didn’t tick the box “professional”, despite the course leading to professional qualifications).

I was a graduate, but spent years earning much less than friends who went into teaching and other professions. So, would I have liked to have left school at 18 and found myself in a job with prospects? Surely not. Going to college meant the world to me, and I will forever treasure that bubble of time between school and real life.

But if it had been up to Rishi Sunak at the time, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to study English. Its aim to evaluate university degrees according to salary thresholds and the number of graduates in professional jobs, and to phase out subjects that do not meet salary targets, would end the study of a subject artistic out of love. Yes, it makes sense to tie degrees to industry, but isn’t there something depressing about limiting education to monetary value?

Sheffield Hallam University has suspended English Literature as a degree course. It follows the University of Wolverhampton’s plan to cut more than 140 courses, including performing arts, fashion, interior design, fine arts and social sciences, and the announcement by the Roehampton University cuts in arts and humanities degrees.

The closure of such courses, warns the Union of Universities and Colleges, is more likely to affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds. UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said universities closing arts and humanities have the largest number of poorer students “and it is unconscionable to deny them the opportunity to study subjects such as literature, art, theater and music”.

Dr Mary Peace, a senior lecturer in English literature at Sheffield Hallam, described such degree reductions in post-1992 institutions as “cultural vandalism”. Writing on social media, she said: “What kind of society will we have if there is no place for people of all social classes to have the chance to read and think (or work in a bar for two years while they try to write a novel) before they have to comply with the workplace?”

I was the first person in my family to go to university. I did English because I loved books and writing and wanted to study literature and develop skills in areas like analysis and critical thinking, for a time that would disappear in a flash. I had the rest of my life to buckle down to a job.

Having a degree in any subject (apart from the Hollywoods or the Kardashians – there are limits!) shows that you have the discipline, drive and work ethic to make it to class, meet deadlines writing skills and pass exams, while learning to stand up. have two feet. These are all qualities that should be attractive to employers.

As the cost of living crisis rages, many young people who obtain their baccalaureate today will choose diploma courses with high salary potential. And I understand that. But college is more than a conveyor belt churning out kit graduates from industry, and eliminating higher education choices is a step backwards.


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