The number of full-time undergraduate courses on offer at UK universities has fallen by more than a quarter (27%) since 2006, according to a UCU report published today.
Despite an increase in student numbers, the report – Course cuts: How choice has declined in higher education – reveals the number of undergraduate courses available has decreased from 70,052 in 2006 to 51,116 in 2012.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, said: “While successive governments have been dreaming up new ways to increase the cost of going to university, the range of subjects available to students has fallen massively. As student numbers have continued to rise, choice has fallen across almost all disciplines, including STEM subjects, which governments have pledged to protect.
“The UK’s global academic reputation is built on the broad range of subjects available and on the freedom of academics to push at the boundaries and create new areas of study. This report shows that, while government rhetoric is all about students as consumers, the curriculum has actually narrowed significantly.
“If we want to compete globally, we simply cannot have areas of the country where students do not have access to a broad range of courses. The increasing cost of university means some students are choosing to study closer to home. How many potential Nobel Prize winners will not see the light of day because the choices that were available to previous generations are simply not there now?”
The report analysed data from the universities admission service, UCAS, to determine which areas of the UK have been hit hardest in course reduction, with large disparities emerging between regions and each of the home nations.
Although students in England will be expected to pay fees up to £9,000 a year, their range of options has narrowed considerably. England suffered the biggest reduction in the number of undergraduate courses (31%), while the country with the most benign fee regime – Scotland – had the lowest level of course cutting (just 3%).
Within the regions of England there is a wide range in the extent of course cutting. Nearly half (47%) of undergraduate courses have been cut in the south-west, but only 1% of courses have gone in the East Midlands. London, which last week was ranked second only to Paris as the best city in the world for students, is offering a third (33%) fewer undergraduate courses than in 2006.
As well as looking at the overall number of courses available, the report analysed the provision of principal, or single subject, degree courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects), arts and humanities, and social sciences.
Key findings from the report include:
· A 27% drop in the number of undergraduate courses available in the UK in 2012 compared to 2006
· The biggest reduction is in England (31%). Scotland (3%) has the lowest level of course cutting. Wales has seen an 11% reduction and Northern Ireland a 24% cut
· Six of England’s nine regions have experienced a cut of 25% or more: south-west down by nearly half (47%). West Midlands and London both down by a third (33%), but East Midlands just 1.4%
· Single subject STEM courses down 15% and arts and humanities down 14%
· German and French studies no longer available as a single subject in eastern England and the north-east
The report also features commentary from four leading academics:
· Sir Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer at the New England Biolabs and Nobel Laureate for medicine or physiology
· James Ladyman, professor of philosophy and head of the department of philosophy at the University of Bristol
· Donald Braben, honorary professor in life sciences at University College London (UCL)
· Philip Schofield, professor of the history of legal and political thought and director of the Bentham Project at University College London (UCL)