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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

AER Teachers: Early Years Teaching Assistant Newham

Negotiable: AER Teachers: Outstanding East London primary school seeking an Ea...

AER Teachers: Southwark primary School looking for teaching assistants

Negotiable: AER Teachers: Southwark primary School looking for teaching assist...

Royal College of Music: Assistant to the Deputy Director & the Director of Research

£24,451 - £27,061 per annum: Royal College of Music: The Royal College of Musi...

Guru Careers: Marketing Analyst / Optimisation Analyst

£35 - £45k DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Optimisation Analyst is...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory