Vice-Chancellors are to launch a crack down on “low quality” degrees as they as it is not in students’ interests to allow them to go “unchecked”.
Universities UK (UUK) is drawing up a new charter aimed at ensuring institutions take a “consistent and transparent approach to identifying and improving potentially low value or low quality courses.”
It is the first time that vice-Chancellors have sought to formally address the issue of so-called “Mickey Mouse” courses which are regarded by ministers as bad value for both students as well as the taxpayer.
University leaders have even suggested the possibility of bringing in “external inspection of courses as a way to rubber stamp the quality of their offering. “In the longer term, universities will also consider options for external assurance or independent review to make their processes stronger as part of an ongoing charter,” according to UUK.
Their intervention comes as the Government prepares its response to the official review of higher education, known as the Augur review.
Ministers have previously criticised universities for running “threadbare” courses in a rush to get “bums on seats” and the Tory manifesto pledged to tackle the issue of low-value degrees.
Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said that when it comes to university degrees he wants to “promote the best and squeeze out the worst”.
He told The Telegraph: “The tackling of low quality is something that actually is going to be very much a part of the reforms that we continue to drive forward.”
An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies published last year found that “creative arts” graduates cost the taxpayer £35,000 each.
Subjects such as Music, Drama, Fine Art and Design Studies are the most costly to the taxpayer since so few alumni earn enough money to pay back their student loan in full.
Of the £9 billion that the government spends on higher education each year, more than £1 billion is on creative arts courses alone, where three-quarters of the total amount dished out in loans is picked up by the taxpayer.
But vice-Chancellors have cautioned against defining the “value” of a degree purely in terms of graduate earnings and employability. They argue that other factors such as career satisfaction, and the contribution of a job to a local or national economy should be taken into account.
The terms of reference for the charter, which will be published this week, states that failing to take action against low quality degrees could “undermine public confidence” in universities.
“It is not in the interests of students or the higher education sector for low-value or low-quality provision to go unchecked,” the terms of reference will say.
Prof Julia Buckingham, president of UUK and vice-Chancellor of Brunel University, said that the overwhelming majority of courses are high quality and offer good value for students.
But she added: “We want to address concerns that some could deliver more for students, taxpayers, and employers. The public needs full confidence in the value and quality of a UK university degree and the charter will demonstrate universities’ commitment to constant improvement.”