Alarm at Ofsted Style Plan to Rank Universities Based on Average Graduate Earnings

The Conservative Party will identify “low quality courses” as the ones with the lowest graduate salaries and therefore rank universities using an Ofsted-style method. The plan would discourage pupils from studying arts and humanities related subjects and pursuing their education in more deprived areas. 

The government wants to judge universities similarly to the way in which Ofsted categorises inspected schools . The regulator classifies education establishments as either “outstanding”, “good”, “requires improvement” and “inadequate”. 

This plan comes after another announcement in 2016 which stated that universities would be rated based on the quality of their teaching and given either a gold, silver or bronze rating. In 2017 the University of Leeds achieved a gold rating under this Teaching of Excellence Framework. 

Now the government wants to classify courses by considering how much students will earn after graduating. According to a 2016/17 study by Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), medicine and dentistry graduates earned the most while those studying creative arts and design the least. 

This plan to classify low-income courses as lacking “quality” is quite significant considering that over 100,000 more students obtained Higher Education qualifications in non-science subjects rather than science ones in 2018/19. However, this can change as earning prospects could potentially put young people off from enrolling in arts and humanities courses. 

Moreover, the focus on earnings will further damage the employment reputation within more deprived areas outside of London. Career Experts estimated that graduates earn the least in Wales and the most in the capital. 

Talking to The Guardian, Professor Alec Cameron, from Aston University in Birmingham, said that:

“We should push back against the idea that a good salary is an adequate measure of how much a job matters to society”. 

According to UCAS, in January 2020 applications for medicine-related subjects were over 300,000 whereas under 4,000 applicants were interested in non-European Languages and Literature degrees. 

Unsurprisingly, the Conservative manifesto shows its focus on the scientific prospects of the country. Some targets mentioned “the science funding system”, collaborating “on scientific research” and “commercialis[ing] our scientific discoveries”.

The focus of the party on the funding of university’s courses and their outcomes, comes after a report by Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) showed that since 2012 undergraduate students’ perceptions of obtaining value for money decreased. 

As a result, in 2018 the then Universities Minister Sam Gyimah announced an “information transformation”. This allowed technology to help potential students expand their knowledge about what comes after graduating from specific universities. 

On the other hand, the British Academy for the humanities and social sciences said that it “is extremely concerned that if AHSS subjects come to be offered at lower fee levels, this will misleadingly play down the value of AHSS and may create the perception that such courses are of low quality”. AHSS being Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences subjects. 

In 2019, the Department for Education published a report about post-18 education and funding which proposed to move funds away from the Humanities sector towards “high-cost and strategically important subjects and to subjects that add social as well as economic value”. 

It says that “The government is estimated to now spend over 30 per cent more per student for Creative Arts degrees than it does for Engineering degrees” and therefore “should adjust the teaching grant attached to each subject”.