Arts degrees should be cheaper than Science degrees

I study English, what do you expect?

A couple of weeks before moving to uni, I was sat comparing timetables with two of my soon-to-be medic friends. Now, as an English student, I never kidded myself into thinking that my contact hours would rival those of a degree in Medicine. The realisation that I have to attend University only two and a half days a week, however, while still handing over the same £9250 a year as those with fewer free periods than we had at sixth form was a little galling.

The number of contact hours obviously has to vary based on the degree-if we didn’t have those two and a half days during the working week to read I have no doubt I’d be showing up to lectures on texts I wouldn’t have had time to read synopses of, let alone the originals. By contrast, the bulk of the medics’ learning will take place in lectures and seminars. So it makes sense. But should arts students be paying to subsidise the cost of science degrees?

If the world were a simpler place, I’d say no. Arts students should, in theory, pay fees which correlate to the amount of time they are being taught, rather than loaning an incredibly expensive seat in the library. However, if they were cheaper, would our degrees be valued (even) less by a society and employment market which already largely favour those in STEM fields? Besides that, the scope for certain degrees then becoming elitist would increase tenfold.

A recent study conducted by The Times Higher Education admits that there is a level of uncertainty when it comes to estimating the cost of any given subject. However, their best efforts suggest courses such as Law and English cost less than £5000 a year to fund, whilst the most expensive (Medicine, who'd have guessed?) is put at just under £24,000. It would take the surplus of two "cheaper" degree students to cover the cost of one medic. Philip Hammond has recently discussed the possibility of lowering all tuition fees to £7500 and Theresa May has agreed to freeze them at £9250, but their focus is the current controversy over vice-chancellor’s salaries (and that's a whole different article), not the subject imbalance. As such, some fees would still go towards subsidising others’.

Of course, as the above article highlights, the surplus is not just created by Arts students and absorbed by the Sciences. International students are charged a huge premium for the pleasure of studying in our rainy land, and the profit margins on most research departments lie firmly in the red. It could be argued that if we're okay with this situation, which is so much an ingrained part of university culture that very few people stop to question it, we have no business becoming indignant over the subject divide.

So, what’s the answer? Well, the abolition of all fees again would be nice. Realistically, though, I’m not sure there is a perfect one. As long as we’re paying for tuition, it looks like some of us will be paying more than we should. That said, I don’t think we should ever advocate a system which makes degrees such as Medicine and Dentistry the preserve of the ultra-rich. So has anyone seen Corbyn? Maybe he could help us out.