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Low value degrees UK: What does this mean for computing programs

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the UK government are set to cap the number of students who wish to study “low value” degrees. Although it is unknown what low-value degrees are, Sunak’s definition of a “low-value” or “rip-off” degree is a course that does not produce graduate outcomes that support the economy and allow a person to start paying off their student debt. This also includes courses with a high non-continuation rate, meaning students tend to drop out.

What does this mean for computer science and information systems degrees? Cybernews Academy wants to examine whether computer science, engineering, and other technological disciplines will suffer under this “new” system in the UK.

The reasoning behind the degree cap

A press release on the GOV UK website states that "university courses that fail to deliver good outcomes, with high drop-out rates and poor employment prospects, will be subject to strict controls." This cap is supposedly in the name of students and taxpayers as they will be "better protected against "rip-off" courses." Sunak stated in this press release that "too many students are being sold a false dream and end up doing a poor-quality course at taxpayer's expense that doesn't offer the prospect of a decent job at the end." The UK government expressed that "these measures will ensure we are tackling individual courses that don't help students, regardless of background, to make choices that give them the best start in life." The reason behind the degree cap seems innocent enough the UK government claims to make the system fairer for students and taxpayers by offering high-value degrees that students can pay off while taking weight off the taxpayer.

Classifying low-value degrees

But what classifies a low-value degree? A few factors will determine a "rip off" degree– continuation, course completion, and professional progression. Continuation and course completion relates to the number of graduates produced by universities across the UK, and professional advancement is how many students are employed in their chosen field in 15 months. The Evening Standard reported: "For each undergraduate degree, universities are expected to have 80 percent of students continuing into the second year of their course, 75 percent completing their qualification, and 60 percent going into professional employment or further study after graduation."

Low-value degree types

We at Cybernews Academy and the rest of the world are still determining what courses this cap will affect. News outlets like Sky News have posited that computer science subjects might be under fire. This is due to high non-continuation rates recorded by the Higher Educational Statistics Agency (HESA) in 2019. Computer science was included in this list, with 9.8%, alongside engineering and technology at 7.2%. These percentages show the number of students not continuing their university degrees. This was compared to medicine, dentistry, and veterinary science students, with a 1.5% dropout rate. Although UK authorities still need to clarify whether computer science degrees are under threat, it does ring some alarm bells.

The future of computer science

As previously stated, no degrees have been announced yet; however, there has been speculation surrounding the state of specific degrees. The government has released an article on their ‘Educational Hub’ blog stating that “if a course leads to good outcomes, it won’t be affected.” A press release from the Department of Education states that “nearly three in ten graduates do not progress into highly skilled jobs or further study 15 months after graduating. The Institute for Fiscal Studies also estimates that one in five graduates would be better off financially if they hadn’t gone to university.” However, HESA statistics show that approximately 64% of computer science graduates in the UK are employed 15 months after graduation. Computer science seems to avoid these low-value degree criteria, as 60% of students should be in professional employment post-graduation.

Furthermore, IT jobs should increase by 11% from 2019 to 2029. With the advancement of technology, IT professionals are in high demand. Wouldn’t it be counterintuitive to cap the number of students who can undertake computer science and information systems degrees?

The future of education

What's the future of education in the UK? Unsurprisingly, many institutions do not support the degree cap as it won't affect the high-ranking universities in the UK. Universities that fall under Russell Group, the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge have high continuation and completion rates. Therefore, lower-ranking universities will suffer due to the "low-value" degree cap. The government will also reduce universities' maximum fee for classroom-based foundation year courses to £5,760 – down from £9,250, which will inevitably put a strain on low-ranking universities across the UK. On the upside, the UK government has "taken decisive steps" to ensure young people have access to more untraditional training opportunities. For example, they've rolled out T-Levels, a practical form of A-Level, established higher technical qualifications, and are establishing 21 institutes of Technology. The UK government seems to be investing more in its youth and potentially more in technology-based education.

Next steps

Arguably, these reforms are foreseeable as the UK has experienced political turbulence over the past five years, with its multiple changes in prime ministers and the effects of Brexit. The academic waters are murky, and the future of these vague “low-value” degrees is left hanging above the heads of aspiring prospective students and young professionals. But how will this affect computer science and IT degrees in the next academic year? The answer remains unclear.