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."

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
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
i100
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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

Early Years Teachers Required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Early Years Teachers ...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Qualified Early Years Teachers Required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualifed Early Years ...

Do you want to work in Education?

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energetic gradu...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little