Fee-market thinking

September 21, 2007

Giles Hooper makes a good point in response to Anna Vignoles' batty idea that we should charge more for arts and social sciences than for science and engineering because employers value the latter more than the former (Letters, September 14).

But he muddies the main point: employers do not value science and engineering more than arts and social sciences, nor do they consider there to be a shortage of such graduates. If they did think this way, they would offer scientists and engineers higher starting salaries and better long-term career prospects. If pay and prospects were good enough, more teenagers would aim to enter these degree courses. It is as simple as that.

What big employers want is, chiefly, chartered accountants (or arts graduates who can be turned into accountants). This is obvious from the fact that they give them better starting salaries and prospects of promotion than scientists and engineers, even in engineering and science-based industries.

It is not the role of universities to distort the market by trying to induce young people to take one degree rather than another on the grounds of fees. This smacks of the failed central planning of the former socialist countries and would not work: the difference in fees would have to be huge to outweigh the difference in future earnings and career potential. Employers cannot buck the market: if they really want scientists and engineers then they will have to pay them properly and give them decent promotion prospects.

Richard Austen-Baker
Lancaster University Law School

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