The UK government has pledged to crack down on so-called “Mickey Mouse” degrees by threatening to withdraw student loan funding from poor quality courses.
Universities are now under pressure from the Student Office to do something about their ‘low value’ courses – but figuring out what constitutes a ‘low value’ course is proving far from clear simple. Universities UK (UUK) has suggested that institutions consider factors such as student drop-out rates, student satisfaction, contribution to culture and graduate unemployment when assessing value of a course. UUK also suggests taking into account the income of graduates.
The ministers did not specifically mention creative courses – just “Mickey Mouse degrees”, which is hopelessly vague – but their concern about the cost of graduates to the taxpayer is a danger to creative arts students. A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that creative arts degrees cost the taxpayer 30% more than engineering degrees because arts graduates are less likely to pay off their student loans in full. As a result, arts graduates can cost the taxpayer up to £35,000 each, with degrees in subjects such as music, drama, fine arts and design studies proving the most expensive.
Worryingly, if courses are deemed “low value,” they could have their student loan funding withdrawn, making their pursuit unsustainable.
The government has always shown a rampant disregard for arts students: most recently a 50% cut in funding for art and design courses was announced in July 2021, while in October 2021 they suggested limiting the number of places in arts classes. For young creatives, this recent news could be the nail in the coffin.
Aamani Fahiya, 19, is currently studying design and production at the London College of Fashion. “I guess in this capitalist society we live in, you can’t even choose what course you take in college unless it benefits the economy,” she says.
Fahiya is also concerned about how ministers plan to determine what a “low value” course is or how universities will quantify a “contribution to culture.” “Different people value things differently, so for a few people to pinpoint some people’s passions as ‘worthless’ is unfair,” she says. “It’s just a small minority dictating what’s valuable using their personal opinions and preferences.”
“It appears that the government is trying to take resources away from subjects who could potentially threaten their regime,” she continues. “Art has the power to stir up emotions and really move people. Art is capable of creating change.
Isaac Roach, 21, is a recent graduate of Leeds College of Music where he studied music production. He shares Fahiya’s sentiments: “The phrase ‘Mickey Mouse degree’ is fucking toxic and indicative of this attack on arts education that we’ve seen for years,” he says.
Roach adds that it’s an even more insulting proposition given the contributions made to British culture – and the national economy – by arts graduates. “A big part of the economy of this country is the music industry, for one thing,” he says. “We had the Beatles, we had the Rolling Stones, you know what I mean? It seems ridiculous that people can have that kind of mentality because art is so important to our national identity and our way of life. Roach is right: the UK music industry was valued at £3.1 billion in 2020.
He adds that he doesn’t see how cracking down on so-called Mickey Mouse degrees will improve the quality of education. “I agree that the value of a degree has dropped and we live in an environment where kids are expected to sign up for student loans right out of school,” he says. . “But this strange capitalist hellscape didn’t come from a vacuum – it came from ten years of destructive Conservative politics.”
Roach is right to point out that higher education has its flaws. The commodification of education is undoubtedly a pressing issue: just three years ago, a student sued Anglia Ruskin University for failing to deliver the promised high-quality education. The government is right to investigate whether the education students receive is commensurate with tuition, but targeting low-income graduate subjects and being vague about what constitutes “good value” is the wrong way to go. proceed.
“This proposal to punish certain sectors does not solve the problem”, assumes Roach. “This will only shift the blame from policy makers to young people and fuel further inequality in access to education.”