Mickey Mouse degrees
Golf management studies? Surf science? Education watchdog OfS is cracking the whip on programmes that offer little value to students. Source: Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP

A quality university education can pave the way for wide career opportunities and improve the chances of securing a well-paid job. The same can’t be said for “Mickey Mouse” degrees — or low-value degrees — which usually leave graduates worse off, though there are those who would argue “puppetry studies” is a completely worthwhile pursuit to spend three years on. 

Whether or not these degrees should stick around is the subject of England’s higher education regulator Office for Students (OfS) recently launched consultation to set out “more challenging” regulatory requirements around degrees. “The measures will help ensure that students from all backgrounds can access high-quality courses which leave them well prepared for life after graduation,” said the education watchdog in a press statement on Nov. 17, 2020. OfS’s proposals would not only raise expected standards for all universities and colleges for 2021, but it will also “enable effective and robust action when quality slips in particular subjects or for different groups of students”.

The aim is to help more students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, complete their courses and move on to graduate-level work or higher-level study. The proposals would include new definitions of quality and standards that higher education providers would need to do to satisfy the OfS’s conditions of registration. The new definitions and proposals from the consultation are designed to provide “a minimum level of protection for all students” – whatever and however they are studying – at every university and other HE provider registered by the OfS.

Protecting underrepresented groups from Mickey Mouse degrees

“The higher education sector in England has an international reputation for high quality and our job as the sector’s regulator is to ensure this continues to be the case,” says OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge. The proposals strengthen their ability to intervene where they have concerns, she said.

“We have previously been clear that we are determined to stamp out any pockets of low quality, and these proposals would not only raise the bar in terms of the quality overall, but would enable us to monitor quality at a subject level, as well as taking into account issues which might be affecting students from particular groups.”

Dandridge said OfS does not believe that expectations should be lowered for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, adding that it would be “untenable to have a regulatory system which allowed universities to recruit students from underrepresented groups but then set lower expectations for their success”. OfS will also flex its powers if they consider that any of their registration conditions are breached, including deregistering a provider. Universities also face being slapped with fines of either up to £500,000 or 2% of a university’s qualifying income, claimed the Daily Mail.