According to the Guardian, the Government is looking to introduce plans for an Ofsted-style university rankings system, primarily based on what its students earn after they graduate. Apparently, this is motivated by a desire to make sure students get good value for their money when paying for higher-level education, and that the government’s subsidies to higher education are well spent.
However, the notion that economic success can be categorically equated to quality of education is ridiculous. Graduate incomes vary based on a huge variety of factors: location, field, class, race and gender just to name a few. Regardless of this, defining a university degree by its students’ eventual income is reductive and exacerbates many of the issues that already problematise higher education.
Universities have already expressed fears that Ofsted-style rankings would limit their independence and freedom. A universal system for judging higher education certainly seems like a sure-fire way to homogenise universities and colleges, in order to ensure that the same standards are met throughout. But excellent teaching and learning comes in a variety of different forms, and often – due to already-established standard boards across primary and secondary education – higher education is the first opportunity many have to experience these individualised methods.
The Department for Education commented that, as around 50% of the cost of higher education is subsided by the government, “it is only fair that this funding is used as efficiently as possible”. Given that STEM graduates often earn far greater incomes than Arts graduates, it seems that efficiency will mean creative subjects missing out on funding, while Sciences prosper.
But if the universities and courses that produce economically prosperous individuals receive increased spending, the resources gap between these and those that are already under-funded, as the Arts often are, is only going to increase. Many already look at Horace Mann's description of education as "a great equalizer of the conditions of men" with irony, and a concentration of funding on sectors deemed economically profitable will just further emphasise its fallacy.
We are already told by society that some fields of study are more worthwhile than others, that some interests, passions, and intellectual pursuits are worthy of attention, whilst others are not. A university grading system based on graduate earnings will only exacerbate this - helping to create a society that prizes economic success above and beyond anything else.
It is important to remember that not everything can be measured monetarily. The experiences, the learning, the insight and the passion for knowledge gained at university are just a few examples of this. By reducing the measure of a university education down to merely the salary achieved at its culmination is not only reductive and narrow-minded, but inherently destructive.
Government plans to introduce Ofsted-style rankings for universities, with courses that produce lower salaries labelled as failing, would punish institutions outside London and threaten arts and humanities courses, worried academics are warning.