Going to university has nearly always been met with a sign of respect. You have worked hard, got the grades, and proved you have the ambition to commit yourself to another three or four years of education. However, in recent years, that respect has dwindled.

 

More often than not, undergraduates are faced with such questions as: ‘what are you going to do after you graduate?’, ‘how will your degree help your career?’, and most importantly, ‘why go to university in the first place?’

For years now, the government and media alike have placed a special importance on graduate employment rates, and especially what degrees get the higher paid jobs. More and more so, young people are being encouraged to set aside their passions, and opt for degrees that will guarantee them a job. Any other decision is now largely seen as ‘useless’.

Nevertheless, you can hardly blame some students for deciding along the more ‘sensible’ path of a job-safe degree. Students are getting poorer and leaving with even more debt, thanks to recent government action. However, it’s not just the system that is slowly pressuring this move away from subjects in the humanities sphere. Many universities themselves are also streamlining certain subjects and cutting down on the amount of Arts degrees on offer. When I first started university almost four years ago, my own subject of American Studies had its own school. Now, it has been combined with Art and Media, and the number of variations of the American Studies degree has declined. Just a year after I started, the school of Music was also abandoned, due to lack of funding. This is a problem that is happening nationwide, not just where I study. Unfortunately, the government is reluctant to use taxpayers’ money to support these kinds of degrees as their job earnings are often initially lower, uncertain, and take longer to establish. Speak to an artist, musician, or writer however, and they’ll often say that money isn’t the driving force behind their career decision.

The government however, has chosen to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Whilst there are of course plenty of people who have a genuine passion for these types of degrees, and will certainly argue that money doesn’t play a role in their decision to pursue such disciplines, they do (most of the time) come with guaranteed incomes after graduation. They are also subjects that form the basis for much of the cooperate and industrial world, hence the heavy government interest and investment.

Even so, university cuts have been felt across all types of students, in both the arts and sciences alike. In recent years, more radio and television adverts have popped up promoting apprenticeships — an alternative way of earning and studying at the same time. Again, they can be a genuinely effective path for some people, but usually their focus is on vocational subjects, leaving little option for those whose interests aren’t considered ‘employable’.

So much pressure and emphasis has been placed on this term ‘employability’ when it comes to graduates. Scaremongering headlines of rising graduate unemployment rates or low-paid, post-university jobs, feature on news sites now almost daily. However, most of the claimed data is largely false. It doesn’t take much searching to discover legitimate research, which shows that in fact, employment among ALL graduates has remained level for many years, even through the 2011 recession when general (and especially youth) unemployment rose dramatically. Graduates are still predicted to make 150 per cent the salary of someone who hasn’t got a degree, and most students also end up in ‘graduate-level jobs’ just six months after university, in which they formally needed their qualification.

In reality, the sad fact is this: university students cost the taxpayer and government a large amount of money. Whilst they might be willing to make allowances for subjects that will immediately begin to start ‘giving back’ post-study, other subjects that lead onto freelance or creative work, are simply not beneficial enough for the economy. So, the threatening media headlines will continue. The streamlining of humanities subjects will go on. Student debt will rise, cuts will get bigger, and having a degree will lose the respect and admiration it once had, and still deserves.