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Government should restrict access to ‘low-value’ arts degrees, think tank report claims

Onward's report claims students of arts degrees will end up in the lowest-earning jobs after graduation. Photo: Shutterstock
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The government should “crack down” on arts degrees and restrict the number of students taking them because they offer limited economic value for both graduates and taxpayers, a think tank has argued.

A report into university courses by centre-right think tank Onward claims creative arts and design degrees, which include drama and music, result in the lowest-earning professions for graduates of all subjects studied in the UK. This is despite producing among the most graduates.

A decade after graduating, the median creative arts graduate earned just £23,200, less than half that of the highest earners, who qualified in subjects such as medicine and dentistry (£55,100) and economics (£48,000).

After five years, 41% of the courses analysed by Onward delivered median earnings of less than £25,000.

The report acknowledges the wide range of courses within the creative arts bracket, noting that not all offer a poor return on investment, and states: “This is not to say there are not many worthwhile non-economic reasons for going to university. But there is no good reason a student should be expected to take out a £9,250 a year loan to pay for a course of little or no economic value, exploiting taxpayers who are ultimately liable. By diverting people from such low-value courses towards better higher education or technical education options, we can make savings.”

It adds: “We propose that the government explores ways to reduce the flow of students on to low-value courses and increase the flow on to higher-value courses in either universities or in technical education. This would strike a balance, cutting the cost to graduates of attending university, but also ensuring that the investments being made by the taxpayer are justified.”

The report suggests requiring universities to only charge the maximum fees if the course’s earnings potential justifies them, or introducing a “minimum grade floor” for courses that do not deliver high economic value to graduates as a way of discouraging young people.

Onward also argues for a graduate tax cut on student loan repayments rather than cutting tuition fees as a way of tackling the level of debt accumulated by university students.

The report’s assessment of creative arts degrees follows comments by Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman, who claimed that further education arts courses offered “relatively poor prospects” and risked giving “false hope” to young people because of the difficult employment landscape.