THE number of full-time undergraduate courses on offer at UK universities has plunged by 27 per cent since 2006, according to a recent report by the University and College Union (UCU). The report also suggests that there has been a 33 per cent decline in undergraduate courses in the London region.
The UCU report analysed data from the University and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) to identify which areas of the UK had been hit hardest by the recent course reduction. While full-time undergraduate courses in the London region decreased by a third, the hardest hit region was the South West with a 47 per cent reduction.
The study also reported a 14 per cent fall in “principal” degree programmes covering the social sciences, arts and humanities and including the so called “STEM” subjects; social sciences, technology, engineering and maths. Undergraduate courses in total have dropped from 70,052 to 51,116 between 2006-2012.
With universities appearing to be abandoning serious academic disciplines, Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, expressed her concern “While successive governments have been dreaming up new ways to increase the cost of going to university, the range of subjects available to students has fallen massively.”
“If we want to compete globally, we simply cannot have areas of the country where students do not have access to a broad range of courses. The increasing cost of university means some students are choosing to study closer to home. How many potential Nobel Prize winners will not see the light of day because the choices that were available to previous generations are simply not there now?”
It is feared that the decline will only accelerate in coming years due to the recent hike in university fees, forcing institutions and respective departments to prioritise the “cheapest” degree programmes.
Professor Philip Schofield, lecturer of the history of legal and political thought at University College London, suggested the drop in courses will “diminish the student experience … It will make UK universities a much less attractive proposition for both home and international students, who value the depth and diversity of our research and teaching.”
Also articulating his concern in the recent UCU report, Professor Donald Braben, honorary lecturer in life sciences at UCL added, “I fear that we are going backwards. Universities exist to challenge what we think we know and offer well-argued and coherent alternatives. They are unique in these respects. However, if we limit their scope and oblige them to concentrate on short-term practical problems their advice might be indistinguishable from that provided by many other sources. Meanwhile, the big problems will continue unresolved.”