Cost of museum-related degrees to triple

Geraldine Kendall, 03.08.2011
Tuition fees for English universities confirmed
Last month the government approved plans by two thirds of England’s 123 universities to raise the undergraduate tuition fee cap to the maximum £9,000 a year for some or all of their courses.

47 institutions are charging the full amount for every course.

The announcement confirmed the Museums Association's report earlier this year, which found that many English universities offering BA courses in museum-related subjects planned to charge maximum fees.

An informal survey conducted by the MA revealed that over 75% of museum-related course providers, including the University of Leeds, Kingston University and the University of East Anglia, planned to charge £9,000, while 100% of those questioned were charging over £8,000.

All have now had their proposed fees confirmed by the Office of Fair Access (Offa). The new charges come into force from 2012.

Under the government’s plans, any university charging over £6,000 is obliged to adopt an access agreement comprised of fee waivers, support grants and other financial incentives in order to increase the numbers of students from poor backgrounds. 

But concerns have been raised that the cost of BA degrees, combined with the museum sector's culture of unpaid internships and an expectation that new entrants be educated to postgraduate level will be detrimental to the diversity of museum staff.

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24.08.2011, 16:42
An MA in Museum Studies is worthless and students would be far better off spending that year volunteering, which although doesn't pay, at least you wouldn't be £9k out of pocket. As for the depressed comments from Anonymous - to be a curator you need to be an academic expert in the particular field. An MA in Museum Studies can't equip you for the rigourous research skills required in curatorial work. However, it has clearly been relevant for the education role you currently hold. Perhaps students/graduated need reminding that the curators care for the collection so that it is accessible for all now and in the future - not just to the interested day trippers but to academics and students too. Young people (I should know, I am one) are often all too quick to jump up and down about accessibility to great works of art without bothering to look in any detail at the art itself. These Museum Studies MAs seem to promote a culture of easy access to museum jobs, when as with any career it takes time and discipline to learn the ropes and be knowledgable and useful in what you do.
MA Member, MJ Subscriber
24.08.2011, 15:55
I agree with concerns raised previously. What worries me is the increase in student debt and this debt putting off the next generation of museum professionals. I wouldn't advise anyone to do a MA in museum studies now to be honest. Only because my last few curatorial interviews have never asked about my MA. I would like to see more paid apprenticeships and opportunities for entry levels to gain practical experience- either exhibitions work, collections management and other hands on stuff. Which I think is more invaluable. An MA museum studies has never been enough, in my experience. But the universities don't say that too much. A MA should not be advertised as the golden ticket to a museum career because it isn't. Any current students still keen on the sector reading this, try and get as much practical experience as possible. I know its hard to volunteer etc, it doesn't pay the bills etc- I have experienced this but the sector is very competitve, more so now with the cuts.
Re the previous comment- I think its unfortunate that has been his/her experience but not all curatorial departments are the same. I am a curator for a national museum and come from a working class background. I started as front of house for several years, gaining collections experience when I wasn't working. I am hoping that the next generation of curators are more people-focused and flexible. I never wanted to be a sterotypical curator, obsessed only with collections and research. There's nothing wrong with that but its not enough. As much as I love looking after the collections, I enjoy meeting (sometimes without an appointment!)the public. To anonymous, i think you are "good enough" because you sound passionate and keen to making collections accessible- which is what all curators should be, within their resources, focusing on.
18.08.2011, 10:59
I agree with all of the other comments about creating an even more elitism in the sector by increasing fees. But this doesn't only exist at this level - I'm afraid in my experience the snobbery is rife in a lot of areas of museum work even when you get a job; mostly in curatorial work I'm sad to say, because this is exactly where we need the diversity. Despite leaving school with no qualifications, I worked hard and I now have two masters degrees (one in museum studies). I was lucky, I didn't have to pay for my first degree because in those days if your family were poor enough, you got your fees paid. God knows how young people will cope now. They will neve be debt free, this is a terrible way to start your working life. I've tried very hard to get work in curatiorial depts, and despite having all the exerience needed and much more - I'm let down because I 'don't know the collections well enough' . How can I know them if I've never worked with them before? They obviously know this from the application form, so why offer an interview if they don't want to give it to someone outside? It really is not rocket science to learn what's in a collection if you understand all the other elements of curatorial work. All the curators I know are well educated and very middle class, but most have not done a museum's MA; their intellect is enough apparently, and a lot of them have no idea how to engage with the public. It makes me wonder what the point was of doing my MA, because I'll never fit with the norm for a curator, and I really wanted to do this. I'm luck though, I have a very good job in museum education, working with people who are like me; committed and passionate about people and creating access to collections. There is little snobbery in education depts - we work with real people every day so there is no room for that. But, it seems I will be kept in my place by the hierarchy that permeates a lot of the larger museums. We really need to have a better way in for young people other than university, and what is expected for entry level jobs. People who interpret our collections should have diverse experiences behind them, not just because they did a phd in something obscure that means nothing to our visitors! I would not chose to spend that kind of money on a museum course now that I know how things work. I was qualified to do the job I'm doing before I did the MA. I did it to change direction in my careeer, but I'm not good enough to be a curator, apparently. But the next wave of middle class, well off graduates will be I'm sure. Craft workshop anyone?
17.08.2011, 15:31
An entirely predictable outcome is that fewer young people will choose a museum career path, options, choices and access will be reduced, elitism will increase and everybody will be the poorer. It's a no-brainer. Big Society or Broken Society? I would really like to know what others in the sector think, the optimists, the pessimists and the don't knows. I used to help at careers evenings at schools, at the request of the schools, but now decline all such requests for the simple reason that I believe I would be doing someone a disservice by encouraging them to embark on a career in a sector that is now so undervalued, poorly paid, and where career progression uncertain at best. I know that anything worth doing is not easy, but the situation now is very different from when I started my museum career a generation ago. The gradient is much steeper, and are the rewards worth it? That is much less certain these days.
10.08.2011, 17:00
If unpaid internships and post-graduate qualifications continue as the norm, there will be no one working in museums but the most affluent. This doesn't have too be a blow to museums, but it does have to be a time to think about how museums can change their culture to be more inclusive in their hiring practices.
MA Member
09.08.2011, 13:19
The entire Arts sector will struggle in the future because of this change in fee systems. It is hard to justify so much debt when the wages once you qualify are not in keeping with other graduate subjects. If I were to go to university now I would be hard pressed to pick an arts subject over a science based one which would pay more when I graduated. I think that museums may have to change their current requirements for entry level jobs and begin to offer more vocational pathways into this sector.