If you’ve been to university in the United Kingdom, you’ll know there are a lot of arrogant STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students. That’s not to say there are no arrogant non-STEM students, we’ve all heard a Dave in the kitchen talk like he’s the next Aristotle. However, there’s something I’ve heard a lot of STEM students say when they want to feel a bit better about spending ~£15,000 a year on their education.
“Non-STEM students are paying for our degree.”
Confession time: I was a student and I used to think this when I started university. After all, it costs more than £9,000 to run a STEM course with all our labs and workshops, these investments are not matched when it comes to non-STEM courses. That means, assuming a non-STEM course does not cost £9,000 to run, they must be subsidising STEM courses. I do not agree with this. In fact, I think it is the other way around. Welcome to the confusing world of student loans and student finance in the United Kingdom.
First of all, I’d like to clarify, I think anybody who discredits any degree program to be a bit of a fool. There are so many skills you can gain from a broad spectrum of degree programs, and these can be used to kick start your career, or give you an insight into the world. Not every degree has to immediately launch you into a high paying career, and that’s not everybody’s goal in life. I’d much rather be doing what made me happy for less than money than something that was soul crushing for a bit more money.
I started to think about this as it got towards the end of my degree, and I wanted to calculate how much I would be paying that. I found an online calculator that, based off a starting salary and a few other assumptions, would tell you roughly how much of your student loan you would pay off. After a slight weep, I started to consider how this would compare if I had done a different degree. I wanted to know what the difference would be if I had a chosen a degree that was shorter and had a lower average starting salary.
Engineers: According to the Graduate Recruitment Bureau, an average Engineering starting salary is £25,000. Using the online calculator for a four years (integrated masters) course puts the total repayment at around £45,000 over 30 years since graduation.
Publishing & Journalism: According to Save The Student, these graduates earn on average £21,000 which according to the calculator means they will pay back £20,000 over 30 years.
So, who is paying for who here? The Engineering graduate is paying £25,000 more over the next 30 years, so are STEM students paying for non-STEM students to study? Let’s not forget, just because you are not doing lots of workshops, it doesn’t mean it’s cheap to run. A university has a lot of overheads, and high quality teaching staff for any degree are not cheap. There’s also a lot of (usually old and inefficient) buildings to maintain with heating, repair staff and cleaning costs.
Depending on what you are/want to be studying, this post might either make you quite angry, or quite smug. But, if you are a non-STEM student who hears a STEM student proudly boast about how you’re paying for them, maybe let them know that while they might be winning in the short term, they may very well lose out in the long term.
What do you think about the student finance loans system in the United Kingdom? What improvements would you make?