5,000 ‘soft degree courses axed’

‘Staggering’ reduction in numbers of degree courses

Everyone’s favourite source of educational critique, Mail Online, conflates several stories and comes up with some earth-shattering news. Some universities are responding to changes in student demand by discontinuing some courses:

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Universities have axed 5,000 degree courses in preparation for cuts in state funding and the trebling of tuition fees, due to take effect in 2012.

Figures show there are 38,147 courses on offer through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service for entry in 2012, down a staggering 12 per cent, from 43,360.

Vice-chancellors have targeted their least popular non-academic courses – ‘soft subjects’ that offer poor employment prospects such as Caribbean Studies – because they are loss-making.

Some universities, such as London Metropolitan, have slashed more than 60 per cent of their courses, including philosophy, performing arts and history.

The University of East Anglia has announced the closure of its music school, which was opened in the 1960s with the help of Benjamin Britten.

The figures, from Supporting Professionalism in Admissions, come as universities fear applications for so-called ‘Mickey Mouse courses’ will reduce to a trickle when students face the prospect of £9,000 a year fees.

So, universities behave as you would expect them to in response to changes in student preferences. And there really is no case to be made that music, philosophy, performing arts, history and Caribbean Studies are either ‘soft’ or only appropriate for study by diminutive cartoon characters.

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Fraud failings “could cost £1bn a year”

Silly season stuff?

Times Higher carries a story suggesting universities’ counter-fraud failings could cost £1bn a year:

Higher education is the worst at protecting against fraud of all publicly funded sectors, with the annual cost potentially exceeding £1 billion, a new report suggests.

The study, by the University of Portsmouth and accountancy firm PKF, found that the sector performed less well than NHS bodies, local councils and central government.

According to the report, The Resilience to Fraud of the UK Higher Education Sector, which surveyed the strategies of 28 institutions, less than 10 per cent of universities accurately estimate the costs of fraud.

It also says that in more than 60 per cent of institutions, specialist counter-fraud staff do not receive professional training, while less than half of universities put those applying for sensitive posts through full “propriety” checks.

Jim Gee, director of counter-fraud services at PKF, said: “This needs to be addressed as a top priority because loss estimates are important in developing a proportionate, properly resourced counter-fraud strategy.”

Really? This doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. £1 billion is about 5% of total spend on HE in the UK and it is just absurd to suggest this much public money is at risk. The analysis is based on a questionnaire to which around 20% of HEIs responded. The scoring system and identified failings also seem to be based on a somewhat extreme view of the risks and mitigations required to prevent fraud in universities. And the accountancy firm who are co-partners in the report look like they have more than a passing interest in the provision of counter-fraud services and training (which is where it is suggested our biggest weaknesses lie).

Fraud is a serious business and universities do need to protect themselves. But this kind of report really doesn’t help.