With Rishi Sunak announcing a proposed cap on students entering “low-value” degrees, his classism shines through once again
Rishi Sunak’s recent proposal to crack down on ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees by capping their intake of students based on the “value for money” of the course, has got many discussing the role of university as a place for higher learning.
However, perhaps the question we must first be asking is, what exactly are these ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses? If you ask the Prime Minister, or indeed any of the other politicians who have used the term over the past couple decades within anti-academia discourse, they certainly wouldn’t be able to come up with a legitimate definition. The term is subjective, and generally used by the speaker to insult a degree course that they deem to be irrelevant or useless. The David Beckham Studies degree in Staffordshire University is a prime example of this, despite actually only being a module on a sports science degree, and not a full degree course as it was widely assumed.
It is clear through the rhetoric used by the Prime Minister that the courses the Tories view as irrelevant and useless lie within the fields of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities.
Sunak defends his position on the grounds that young people going into apprenticeships and higher technical qualifications will have better job prospects and practical skills providing a higher “value for money”, than a degree in Art History for example. It is definitely true that academia isn’t for everyone and that technically-oriented courses need to be more heavily emphasised for young people. But Sunak’s proposed solution of punishing subjects that he does not deem economically lucrative only serves to push more working class individuals out of these subjects, as they may feel that the subject they study must lead to a financially rewarding career in order to justify the price of the course.
In actuality the non-STEM courses that Sunak would degrade as ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’ can actually lead to highly successful job prospects – why not ask Sunak himself whether or not his social science degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics was good “value for money”? This highlights the elitism in the Prime Minister’s argument; he is not opposed to ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees, he is opposed to them being available to the masses.This movement of university students who are turning away from Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities is leading to what Ajay Sharma describes as the “STEM-ification of education” where school curriculums over the past several decades have been shifting to emphasise STEM programmes in order to enforce neoliberal economic beliefs in young people. Although STEM subjects do have the ability to, it would be remiss of us as a society to devalue the critical thinking skills that essay-based subjects teach us.
The implementation of this policy would also pose serious practical issues for Scottishuniversities. Westminster does not have the power to enforce this policy in Scotland and therefore so-called ‘Mickey Mouse’ degree programmes in Scottish universities would have larger capacities than their English counterparts. This in turn would more than likely lead to a much larger population of English students travelling north in order to study Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Glasgow University is already suffering from one of the worst student housing crises in the country. Another population of students being driven to the city would only serve to exacerbate the problem.
In reality, there is an issue with students not getting their value for money within university degree programmes. But the solution involves tackling issues of growing student debt, the cost of student housing, and the encouragement of a larger range of courses.