We’d like to assure teachers, students and Laura McInerney (The misguided obsession with Stem subjects is to blame for the decline in English A-levels, 16 July) that the organisations that support the discipline of English have been addressing this issue head-on since 2017. For example, we have collaborated to produce material to counter myths and misinformation about the subject (available at the English and Media Centre website); we have held discussions with the Department for Education; and we have canvassed across the sector (the most recent annual survey is on the National Association for the Teaching of English website).
Employers really rate English and the skills it teaches: English graduates are successful in a very broad range of graduate careers. Our Action on Employability in English event on 16 September at Northumbria University will challenge the misrepresentations of the subject that McInerney highlights. The huge English: Shared Futures celebration and conference in Manchester, in June 2020, will be addressing this topic constructively too. Responding to wide-ranging evidence that student dissatisfaction with the new GCSE has discouraged many from continuing to A-level, we are also lobbying for a richer experience of the subject at GCSE: the curriculum in English should mean much more than exam preparation.
Barbara Bleiman Editor, English and Media Centre, Martin Halliwell President, English Association, Rob Penman Chair, English Association, Jennifer Richards English Association HE committee, Sean McEvoy, Robert Eaglestone English Association, Katy Shaw, Gail Marshall University English, Clare Lees Director, Institute of English Studies, Jonathan Morgan Director, National Association for the Teaching of English, Seraphima Kennedy Director, National Association of Writers in Education, David Duff Chair, Common English Forum and four others (see gu.com/letters)
• I strongly agree that we need people studying arts subjects and that pitting maths against English is a counterproductive endeavour that misses the point – one is not objectively better than the other for society. But what is objective is the fact that statistically many students would be better off studying a science degree.
Laura McInerney mentions that computer science has the highest unemployment rate, but fails to mention that the average wage of an arts graduate is the lowest of all degrees. This suggests that there is less value added from studying an arts degree compared to a science degree. Yes, some people should study English, but the fact is that in the current system of tuition fees a degree is an investment, and in this environment the decision of choosing what to study at university should not be a matter of simply choosing what you love regardless of the economic reality.
• Yet again, the government complains that universities are awarding too many first-class degrees, and plans to intervene to curb this alleged grade inflation (Report, 12 July). As ever, ministers refuse to acknowledge that this might be a direct consequence of their “marketisation” of higher education. When fees were raised to £9,000, the universities minister, David Willetts, said he wanted to “put students in the driving seat”. Meanwhile, universities have been told to operate as businesses, with much greater emphasis on giving their “customers” (students) what they want. Well, what most students want is a good degree.
Add to this scenario the obsession with the annual National Student Survey, university league tables, increasingly vocal and litigious students (and parents), and a highly competitive graduate job market, and it is hardly surprising that many universities and academics feel under constant pressure to award higher grades and degrees. In effect, their jobs depend upon keeping current students happy, while hoping to attract future students to their university.
As ever, though, the Tories kneejerk response to the entirely predictable outcome of their reforms is to the blame universities, rather than the dogma and idiocy of the Tories’ own education policies. The consequence? One minute we have the advocacy of a free market in higher education, and the next minute, yet more Soviet-style intervention by the state.
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