Variable tuition fees for arts and sciences would be a sySTEMatic failure

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By Elisha Mans, First Year Politics & International Relations

There is a shortage of people with science and engineering backgrounds in the UK. We need to encourage people into studying in these disciplines. We do not need a system whereby students are more inclined to pick arts subjects on a financial basis.

Variable tuition fees have been proposed as a viable option for improving student debts - arts subjects use less resources, have less contact time and generally result in a lower graduate salary and so she proposes that they must have lower tuition fees. That sounds fine.

They would be allowing UK science to slip into more dangerous ground than it already finds itself in.

Until we look at the gaping holes in this idea which lead us to realise that in practice, this would counteract both a need for scientists and the problem of reducing social inequalities within the education system.

Scientists, doctors and engineers are lacking in the UK. 43 per cent of STEM vacancies are hard to fill because of a skills shortage.

If we cut the costs of arts subjects so that science subjects cost more, then students will be less inclined to study STEM subjects. There is no doubt about the fact that if a student was faced with a decision between two courses, one of which had a far lower cost than the other, the inclination would be to opt for the one that would land them in less debt.

In such a lack of STEM skills can we really afford to risk this?

The government must realise that in order to fill this shortage they need to encourage students to study these science-related subjects and in creating variable tuition fees, they are doing the exact opposite. They would be allowing UK science to slip into more dangerous ground than it already finds itself in.

The idea of variable tuition fees therefore seems unviable even without considering the fact that disadvantaged students are going to be the ones who will get the worst of this proposal.

If a student comes from a disadvantaged background, the likelihood of them choosing a degree with a higher tuition cost is lower because they do not have the financial stability to justify picking the more expensive option. So, they will pick the arts courses. Yet arts courses result in a lower average salary, thereby perpetuating social inequality.

If the government is even trying to pretend to want to reduce inequality, then they would acknowledge that the idea of giving a financial incentive to pick an arts degree is, at best, ignorant.

The students who have financial stability will be able to choose the more expensive STEM subjects without worrying too greatly about the debt that they will be in, but the poorer students will not have a chance. Obviously, the richer students then go on to earn more as they could pick the course which will likely ultimately result in a higher salary.

Here we are again, disadvantaging the disadvantaged.

Variable tuition fees are not a sustainable way to address the problems of graduate debt. They will intensify far more problems than they solve.

Featured image: Unsplash/Sebas Ribas


Do you have a strong opinion about tuition fees, or the sciences versus arts debate? Let us know!

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