Why Arts students shouldn’t get exclusive discounts on their degrees

Anthony Jones believes Arts students aren’t being conned – and in some cases get more opportunities than non-Arts people


I am fortunate enough to have studied as both an Arts student in the English faculty and as a medical student at Bristol, the latter of which falls into the category of degrees the author of ‘Why Arts Students Are Being Conned’, Victoria Newark, clearly has a chip on her shoulder over.

Photo: University of Bristol

Photo: University of Bristol

I am not endorsing the high tuition fees that all students face at the University of Bristol. I avoided the appalling near tripling of University tuition fees by virtue of coming to Bristol in the previous admission cycle. I sympathise greatly with anyone who is paying such extortionate fees, regardless of what degree they study. But I take serious issue with the idea that you should get more sympathy because you study an Arts degree.

There are perks of being an Arts student that you just don’t enjoy as a medical student, or any of the other non-Arts subjects Victoria referred to in her article. In Medicine most of our education is spent in lecture theatres of 200+ students, who cannot email or approach the lecturer at the end if they do not understand something. At the start we were explicitly told not to email with queries relating to the lecture content.

Whilst writing an English essay recently, I was struggling to get to grips with an obscure part of a poem. The line I was struggling with was at least 200 lines in and when I emailed the tutor who had set the essay, he quickly replied with his understanding of the passage and a couple of books that dealt with this part of the poem, including where they could be found in the library.

I am not criticising the medical faculty: there would be no way they could address every query in a lecture theatre, especially when they often teach multiple courses (there is  a huge overlap in content and therefore teachers between the Medicine, Dentistry and Biochemistry departments), as well as many more year groups. But the individual attention Arts students get is one example of the value of their degree Victoria has neglected in her article.

An Arts student's spiritual home

An Arts student’s spiritual home

Then there are guest lecturers. By attending 6 contact hours Victoria is choosing to get the least value for her money. I am on the English and Philosophy mailing lists and am constantly being bombarded with notifications about extra seminars and lectures I might be interested in. If you wanted to you could quite comfortably double your contact hours.

Guest lecturers are often very prestigious and their time is valuable. In Medicine we have some visiting lecturers, granted, but far fewer and not enough free time to attend most of them. The vast majority of them are organised by student societies which, whilst being very good, are probably worth less in fiscal terms, which is Victoria’s only measure of ‘value’.

You are also forgetting through our membership of the university we all have access to extra-curricular opportunities as well as lectures and teaching. The Sports Centre ran a Sports Leadership course that would cost around £200 if you did it independently, but due to University subsidies it costs a mere £30.The Careers Service is fantastic, offering the Bristol Plus and Outstanding awards, workshops and careers advice, which’re all completely free because you’re a student at the university.

If you genuinely feel you’re not getting value for your money, do something about it and exploit the opportunities available instead of whining. Let me reiterate I’m not condoning the astronomical tuition fees. Rather, I’m merely pointing out these are opportunities are available to any student, with no discrimination against those who study Arts degrees.

And now for your most irritating inaccuracy. No, your tuition fees don’t pay for lab equipment and parts of aeroplanes – the NHS pays for many extra costs (it costs the NHS half a million pounds to train a medical student). Research grants and alumni also pay for the expensive equipment you seem so bitter you don’t get to play with.

Consider also the dangers of explicitly quantifying a disparity in the value of a degree when as an Arts student you are looking for a job? Moreover, think about how making science degrees more expensive than arts degrees would affect undergraduate applications? Arts degrees would become excessively competitive, whereas people would be deterred from applying to study science, exacerbating two pre-existing problems.

Finally, let me address your point that apparently we can ‘stride into jobs’ more easily and therefore our degrees should cost more. We know our degrees are more vocational – we chose them. You opted to study an Arts degree. You get to stretch yourself far more intellectually through the greater opportunities you have for private study and through writing essays. You get to work with some of the leaders in your field, producing essays and other pieces of work that showcase your intellectual identity.

Arts students get to stretch themselves intellectually

Arts students get to stretch themselves intellectually

I am not bitter about this because I sacrificed that element of education to have a higher chance of employability in the end. We hold different values and therefore we studied different degrees. Don’t whine because we planned ahead.

I think whilst at University Arts students get a far more diverse education, which science students can only dream of. While you choose your dissertation subject, we prepare for negatively marked multiple choice exams.

Don’t undervalue an Arts degree. You have had fantastic opportunities to get more out of it – it’s not everyone else’s fault you’ve failed to do so.