The tuition paradox: You pay more money, you get less choice

The past six years have seen a spectacular reduction in the number of courses taught by universities, as the impact of higher fees begins to be felt

More students paying more money to study fewer subjects – that is the picture of higher education in Britain painted by research published today, which shows a dramatic reduction in the number of degree courses.

A survey by lecturers' leaders shows that more than one in four degree courses has been scrapped since 2006 – the year that top-up fees were introduced in English universities. Languages, science, and arts and humanities subjects are among those which have been axed.

The report, based on an analysis of data supplied by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, says the number of courses at UK universities has declined from 70,052 to 51,116 in the past six years – with some regions suffering a bigger reduction than others.

As a result, some areas of the country have become a "languages-free zone", it argues. The number of students has also increased dramatically over the same period, so the emerging picture is of a growing number of students facing less choice about the subject they study, and where they study it.

The South-west has suffered the biggest cut in courses with a 47 per cent drop, followed by Eastern England (40.9 per cent down), the North-west (39.9 per cent) and then the West Midlands and London, both down 33 per cent. The East Midlands is relatively unscathed, with just a 1.4 per cent reduction.

In some areas of the country, subjects are simply no longer on offer. Remarkably, French and German courses cannot be found in Eastern England and the North-east, the report notes.

England has suffered a bigger cut than other parts of the UK, with a 31 per cent reduction in courses compared with just 3 per cent in Scotland, fuelling claims that rising fees are prompting many universities to concentrate on a dwindling number of the most popular subjects.

"The decisions currently being undertaken by many universities and encouraged by the British Government seem completely contrary to the idea of providing a broad and balanced education for university students," said Sir Richard Roberts, Nobel Laureate for medicine and physiology.

"I notice that some universities have been closing chemistry departments where one of the key subject areas for understanding biology is taught. That just makes no sense. Others close humanities departments presumably because they are not viewed as profitable."

James Ladyman, professor of philosophy at the University of Bristol, added: "Provision shouldn't be decided on the basis of short-term popularity contests, but when you introduce a market that is what happens."

A subject breakdown of the reduction of course options reveals that "Stem" subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths, considered vital to the future of the economy – have suffered a greater reduction (14.6 per cent) than arts and humanities (14 per cent) and social sciences (12.8 per cent).

However, the percentage cut in mainstream subject choices is less than the overall figure for course cuts – leading to speculation that some more fringe subjects may have disappeared.

The University and College Union believes the situation will be exacerbated by the introduction of fees of up to £9,000 a year from this September. "We fear that shifting the burden of funding from the state to the student means nervous universities will look to axe even more courses that they worry won't make a profit," said Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary.

"However, we simply cannot have areas of the country where local students do not have access to the courses they want to study. The increasing cost of university means many students will consider studying closer to home."

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it was up to universities to decide for themselves which courses to offer. It pointed out that there was special funding available for those running Stem courses, with ministers currently reviewing which subjects should be eligible.

Various research projects have indicated that students are more likely to opt for courses which will give them the best chance of getting a job afterwards, as tuition fees rise.

The report's publication coincides with separate research indicating that the UK higher-education system is inching down the league table for attracting overseas students, as a result of attempts to curb immigration.

Figures show that of the eight nations most successful in attracting overseas students, only the UK has suffered a cut in its percentage share of the total. While the UK share of the international market rose from 11 per cent to 13 per cent between 2001 and 2009, it fell to 12 per cent in 2010.

The report suggests that the UK risks losing out on its full share of the projected multibillion-pound increase in the market for global education services. It cites curbs on visas and restrictions on postgraduation employment opportunities as the reasons.

Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, said: "The problem we have is probably with perception. By clamping down on immigration, out there in the rest of the world the UK is seen as not welcoming scientists who can carry out innovation."

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Business Studies Tutor / Assessor / Lecturer - Tollerton

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Year 1 Teacher

£12 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education require a year ...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on