Getting creative with IFS report

April 21, 2016

Reading through the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ report on graduate earnings, it is as if the authors have taken their cue from Nicky Morgan’s “don’t bother studying the creative arts” mantra (“Graduate earnings figures with explosive political impact”, 13 April).

The report is a piece of policy-based evidence that will play a major role in the “evidence-based” anti-arts education policy that will no doubt follow in its wake. What else is one to make of statements such as “creative arts graduates have very low earnings...because they possess characteristics that would be associated with lower earnings anyway” – characteristics such as creativity, the ability to deal with change and uncertainty, problem-solving and so on that employers say they want.

In its determination to demonstrate the worthlessness of creative arts higher education, the report fails to mention that the UK’s creative economy employs about 2.5 million people and is growing faster than the UK workforce as a whole. The creative industries now account for more than 5 per cent of gross value added, and the sector is growing faster than all other sectors except real estate activities.

And what subjects did many of those essential contributors to the national economy study at university? I believe you’ll find them categorised under “creative arts”.

Paul Kleiman
Visiting professor, Middlesex University and Rose Bruford College

The recently released IFS data on graduate earnings contain no great surprises, but it is interesting that there is no naming of the universities where the cost of a degree is now exposed as clearly not value for money in simple economic terms for male graduates.

In the Financial Times, it is stated that this is because the IFS does not have the resources to contact the 25 or so institutions to request agreement to releasing the data. This implies that individual universities might already know where they are in this new league table. If they do, or if they could easily find out from the IFS, then, arguably, they have a duty under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, as made clear by detailed guidance issued to universities last year by the Competition and Markets Authority, to make such material information available to prospective applicants who will otherwise be influenced by the broad marketing hype suggesting simplistically that “going to uni” is a one-way bet, even after the cost of fees and loans. For at least 100,000 (at a guess) student-consumers this is now demonstrably not the case and they deserve to be treated properly by the higher education industry and not misguided by its sin of omission in failing to reveal to them crucial new information. If the industry does not fulfil its legal obligations, the CMA and Which? should ensure that it is made to do so.

For the senior managers of such institutions knowingly to hold back such information is a “crime”, reflecting the fact that the CRA does not impose criminal sanctions upon dodgy vice-chancellors for what would be a “crime” in the moral sense and also in the sense that the breach of the CRA would allow aggrieved consumers to sue as a civil action the university for any losses. But the Fraud Act certainly does make it a crime to recklessly or deliberately extract dosh from punters by keeping silent about material information that would otherwise influence the reasonable person not to have dealings in the scam offered.

David Palfreyman
New College, University of Oxford

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