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Should students pay more for studying art?

There has been a long-winded debate regarding tuition fees and what students receive in exchange for their payments towards their degree course, and with interesting information leaking from student newspaperEpigram of the University of Bristol last year, the debate could become heated. The student newspaper published figures after obtaining a freedom of information request which lead to 150 arts and social science students protesting at the university in December 2014. These students were suspicious as to where the money from their expensive tuition fees was being allocated after learning how much their degree courses ‘cost’ per student.

It was found that approximately half of most art student’s tuition fees each year was designated to other departments of the university, and the majority of the funding were transported to the science, medical and veterinary science faculties. The information revealed that of the £9,000 that an art student paid, less than £3,500 was spent and most of the leftover funds were given to other degree programmes which are more expensive to run – and History students weren’t much better off with only having around £4,200 spent on them from their towering fees. This evidence showed that arts students’ fees were used to compensate for departments that ran more expensive degree courses but had losses, such as Chemistry and Dentistry which spend up to three to four times on each student.

In spite of students paying more than their degree course is actually worth, the view from some politicians has been that arts and humanities students should actually pay more for their studies, and students who study science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (STEMM) pay less for studying more ‘useful’ courses. The UK Independence Party election manifesto for 2015 pledged that students taking degrees in STEMM subjects will receive free tuition and the Labour party allegedly reported to have considered reducing the fees to £6,000. These politicians deemed these pledges important to recover the shortages in STEMM subjects and to encourage more students to study science and technology courses.

However, this in turn, with students knowing how much their tuition is spent on their studies could affect how ‘valuable’ students perceive their courses to be. The attention that the government gives to STEMM subjects over art subjects gives the impression that some courses have higher precedence over others which could be dangerous to university ideals and aspirations. It also could deter students from studying arts and humanities, and furthermore, restricting individuals of having the opportunity to become passionate about subjects and areas of interest.

Having a ‘consumerist and marketised view of education‘ would showcase what the government and industry regard as useful to society, and more worthy of public funding, and changes the view of the education system altogether. This debate regarding value and worth could in turn create a resentment towards the arts, tuition and university as students may be put off studying their interests instead of increasing them to study something else.

Additionally, reducing tuition fees for university level education is not the answer to persuade more young people to enter science, technology or engineering education. With the increasing number of students attending university each year, in an array of subjects, students who want to achieve in STEMM subjects are not deterred by tuition fees or their student loan. The interest of these areas should be explored at a younger age during secondary, or even primary education, to create a spark and aspiration in students from a younger age – not once they turn 18 and they already have an idea of who they want to become as a person.

The government’s worries about funding for STEMM degree courses should be dealt within the House of Lords with increasing funding for education across the board and not on a student’s tuition fee loan repayments.