Putting a price on psychology

Ella Rhodes on comments from the Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently suggested so-called ‘low value’ degrees should be dropped or revamped by universities. According to a statement from Hinds a new analysis has shown a 25 per cent chance of graduates not earning £25,000 or more after five years – the threshold for repaying student loans.

Psychology was one of those degrees singled out in the statement, released by the Department for Education, which pointed out more than a fifth of psychology courses see graduates not reaching the earning threshold within five years. He wrote: ‘Our university sector is world class and we are rightly proud of it. Its reputation is built on trust and when young people apply to go to university it is based on the assumption… that a degree will set them up for a bright future – but today’s analysis shows that isn’t always the case.’

However, many psychologists have pointed out that the five-year threshold does not take into account postgraduate study and the broader value of studying psychology. In a blog post Dr Julie Hulme (Keele University), former Discipline Lead for Psychology at the Higher Education Academy, said Hinds’ comments had rankled. ‘Psychology graduates take time (around five years, ironically) to settle into their graduate career… However, as shown by a longitudinal study of psychology graduates from the BPS [British Psychological Society], psychology graduates DO attain graduate jobs, and they do find their psychological studies valuable, even if they work in education, health, business, or marketing, rather than in psychology per se.’

Hinds’ comments came days before the government released its review of post-18 education and funding – also known as the Augar Review. The review pointed out that the lifetime economic return for studying psychology is low for men and women; however, Hulme pointed with hope to the review’s recognition of the need to acknowledge a degree’s benefits to society and culture.

Hulme said she hoped the government would heed the report’s remarks on social and cultural value. ‘Imagine a world in which no-one studied creative writing, art, or music, and the only beauty in the world was prefaced by a symbol such as £, or $, or €... I’m not disputing the value of maths or engineering; I just think we need a world in which beauty exists alongside technology and trade.’

In preparation for the Augar Review Hulme, BPS President Professor Kate Bullen, and others came up with a briefing on the value of psychology and the benefits of supporting psychology – which was sent to the review’s panel. Some of the evidence-informed benefits they outlined included the fact that psychology brings women and minority groups into science and allows students to develop a broad range of skills. There is also a growing need for psychologists and psychological staff, outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan, and there is an obvious role for psychologists in helping with early prevention of public health concerns such as obesity.

BPS Chief Executive Sarb Bajwa said Hinds’ remarks were based on a ‘frustrating and fundamental’ misunderstanding of the value of a psychology degree. ‘Psychology is recognised by UCAS as a STEM subject, which puts it at the heart of the Government’s own productivity strategy. But it also gives graduates valuable employability and psychological skills that are directly transferable into the wider modern workplace.’ 

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