Credit - Alice Dietrich via Unsplash

The decline in arts degrees: a sySTEMic change

By Charlotte Adams

The number of STEM students is growing, let’s learn to love them. 

The debate between arts students and STEM students as to who has the hardest degree has long been a key component of university life, a divide that begins at the awkward “So, what are you studying?” conversation during Freshers’ week. However, recently it seems that the STEM students have finally won, successfully convincing the rest of the population that their degrees are more valuable, despite earning on the basis of making a poster. This is reflected in recent figures from UCAS which demonstrate that fewer students chose to study subjects such as design, journalism, teaching, and languages in 2023 than they did in 2022. Some commentators (such as Emma Duncan for The Times), have heralded this as a positive step, claiming that it is a sign that students are looking for a degree that can provide them with “fulfilling, well paid careers” (ouch). Indeed, the UK government seems to agree with this perspective, and are currently engaged in discussions regarding the introduction of a possible cap on the number of students who can study arts degrees. Despite the supposed economic advantages of more students studying STEM subjects, the full consequences of this shift in the university population have yet to be fully explored. However, we should not be so quick to celebrate. Those celebrating the rise in the number of students studying STEM degrees have seemingly forgotten that this will mean that there will be a rise in one of the more curious specimens seen around campus; the STEM student.

Known for their superiority complex and, ahem, selectivity when it comes to socialising, the STEM student is easily identified. The first sign that you have a STEM student in your midst is that they will be wearing what might politely be described as ‘lab coat chic’. Since lab coats cannot be worn outside of the lab, the STEM student has replaced its favourite overcoat with the street style lab coat – known to the rest of us as a Superdry hoodie (perhaps the S in STEM does not stand for science after all). They might claim that this is because their schedule is simply too crowded to devote any time to good outfit choices and if they had as few lectures as us they might be more fashionable, I rather suspect that instead the creativity and critical thinking skills needed to study an arts subject just translate themselves to good fashion sense. However, each rule does have its exception – some  STEM students do of course know that other shoes except walking boots exist, but they will still give themselves away with their pale skin due to a severe vitamin D deficiency (a side effect of spending most of their time 4 floors below ground in the Rankine building). This is not to say of course that STEM students do not have their uses. When looking for a new phone or laptop one merely has to mention the possibility of buying an Apple product before you are inundated with information regarding camera quality and processing speeds and price and design. 

And yet, despite this curious specimen’s quirks, it is time that we put aside our battle for superiority and appreciate that all degrees, even arts subjects, have worth. After all, I suspect that there is a little bit of a STEM student inside us all; I just might have a Superdry hoodie lurking in the back of my wardrobe. The real mistake made by those celebrating the decline in arts degrees is that in doing so, they reduce a university education to only its potential for economic growth and future employment opportunities (spoken like a true soc sci student, I know). Instead, we should find what unites us: our hatred of MyGlasgow, our love of a pint of fun, but most of all: our allegiance against med students.


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