An editor's thoughts: degrees are being bought not earned



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By Will Charley, Comment Editor

Doing an arts degree increasingly feels like ticking a box at university.

In a recent article, Euan Merrilees has suggested that ‘universities are becoming less a place of learning’ and to his credit, he has brought a very positive attitude to this problem.

However, I feel the commercialisation of higher education is one that merits further discussion.

Jargon aside, this is the idea that universities are making arts degrees less academically rigourous, in order to attract more students who then pay £9,250 every year.

It is the idea that arts degrees have gone from seeking to develop students’ knowledge and analysis, to a product that the University can exchange for tuition fees. More students means more money, and the easiest way to get more students is to make these degrees easier to get onto and more attractive to ‘consumers’.

For example, Bristol University’s standard offer to study History in September 2017 was AAA*, yet the following year, the standard offer was just AAA. The bar to study History at Bristol was lowered.

Similarly, whilst the University has increased the number of hours for some arts students, many are finding that they have fewer contact hours. Euan also points out that fewer essays are being required of students, again making a course less academically rigorous, potentially increasing it’s appeal.
Admittedly, this problem is not a new one.

Whilst the tripling of tuition fees in 2010 may have turned higher education into big business, I was reminded by my own degree that undergraduates in America protested the commercialisation of university when student ID numbers were first introduced in the 1960s.

Students have often felt like they are on a conveyor belt, travelling through a machine that takes their money and spits them out.

But, the problem is not the fault of lecturers. My experience is that Bristol’s staff work incredibly hard and are very passionate about their subjects. Perhaps the increasing desire for all job applicants to have a 2:1 is driving this change, with students caring less about learning and more about achieving a degree as easily as possible.

Ultimately, questions must be raised about whether University is becoming increasingly commercialised and if something needs to be done.

Featured image: Unsplash/Patrick Tomasso

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Will Charley

Comment Editor 2018/19 | Deputy Online News Editor 2018 | Second year history student | Shortlisted nationally by the SPA for Best News Story | @willcharley1