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Admission restrictions to be placed on so-called 'low-value' degrees with high drop-out rates and poor employment prospects.

Students in a library

Rawpixel via iStock

There has been strong pushback against government plans to cap the number of students in England taking degrees deemed to be 'low value' amid concerns about the potential impact on the creative industries.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the policy, which will be enforced from academic year 2024/25, on Monday (18 July), with limits to be imposed on courses that do not have a high proportion of graduates getting professional jobs, pursuing further studies or starting businesses.

Although a list of 'low-value' courses is yet to be released, and will be determined by the Office for Students (OfS), it is widely anticipated creative degrees will be impacted.


Research into employment patterns finds creative degree graduates are less likely to follow traditional employment routes.

Graduate outcomes data shows creative arts graduates are more likely to work in non-graduate roles than other graduates, are less likely to go onto further study and are more likely to be working in freelance or self-employed roles. The same research also found unemployment among creative arts graduates is higher than across all other subject areas.

The Labour Party, which recently promised greater emphasis on creative education if it wins the next general election, has criticised the policy, with Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson calling the policy “an attack on the aspirations of young people”.

Commentators across social media have also voiced concern. Creative consultant and practitioner Chrissie Tiller said on Twitter the government’s plans are most likely to exclude working-class backgrounds from arts and humanities, while political commentator Owen Jones called the potential impact on creative degrees “cultural vandalism”.

Senior Lecturer at the University of Winchester, Judith Heneghan, added that by condemning low value degrees, government is neglecting students own reasons for studying arts. 

“What about personal development/critical awareness? What about choices for mature students? What about the immeasurable contribution arts grads make to our collective creative wealth?,” she tweeted.

Screenwriter and Arts Emergency Mentor James Wakeham added: “This government's relentless assault on young people's imaginations and ambitions is ethically, societally and economically bankrupt”.

‘Narrow’ metrics

Creative UK Chief Executive Caroline Norbury said the government’s suggested metrics for assessing low value degrees are too narrow to accurately or fairly reflect the success of the UK’s talented creative graduates.

“We are already facing a crippling skills shortage, with creative roles currently representing nearly a third of the government’s own shortage occupation list.” Norbury said.

“By introducing further restrictions to accessing meaningful creative education, our talent pipeline will only constrict further, limiting the creative industries’ potential to drive economic growth, job creation and innovation.”

Norbury added government should introduce broader metrics for assessing graduate outcomes and quality of course provisions.

“These should vary based on subject areas and the requirements of the industries they are designed to feed qualified talent into, while also factoring in whole career earnings potential, skills shortages, societal benefits, and future facing needs. 

“The metrics must give Higher Education providers a clear framework within which to deliver this more nuanced definition of course quality, so that they may also be held to account by regulators if they fall short. 

“This approach will ensure we can produce a strong and diverse creative workforce equipped with the skills needed to support UK growth and unlock the opportunities of the future.”

Arts subject funding falls

News of the proposed low value degree cap follows a decrease in the funding made available to high-costs arts subjects in universities for academic year 2023-24.

Next year’s funding allocations, published by OfS earlier this month, shows high-cost subjects covering performing and creative arts and media studies will receive £17m, a drop of 6%.

Meanwhile, other similar cost subjects, including computer and information technology, archaeology and pre-registration nursing courses, will receive a 6.3% increase, to a combined total of £849m. 

According to reporting from Research Professional, the OfS has explained the £1m reduction as “reflecting a reduction in student numbers in these subjects” and added it is “maintaining the rate of funding in cash terms”.

OfS funding allocation of high-costs subjects is based on the number of students educated on these courses by sector-wide funding rates. This is further multiplied by “a scaling factor to ensure that total allocations remain within budget”.

The formula suggests that if creative degrees are impacted as heavily by the government’s admission caps as anticipated, OfS funding for creative subjects is likely to fall again in the future.