Steep price hikes likely for museum degrees

Geraldine Kendall, 18.05.2011
Concerns over effect on diversity in museum sector

A Museums Association (MA) survey has revealed that the majority of English universities offering museum- and heritage-related undergraduate degrees plan to charge students the maximum £9,000 a year from 2012.

The MA found that almost 75% of the publicly-funded universities questioned are likely to charge the maximum £9,000, while none plan to charge below £8,000. 11 universities offering BA courses such as museum studies and exhibition design were surveyed.

The controversial £9,000 cap was set by the coalition government earlier this year. At the time, ministers predicted that most universities would charge no more than £7,500, but two-thirds have since declared they are likely to charge the full amount for some or all of their courses. Graduates start repayments once their salary reaches £21,000.

Universities charging more than £6,000 must prove to the Office of Fair Access (Offa) that they are fulfilling quotas of disadvantaged students - although Offa's assistant director David Barrett has admitted universities will not be fined for failing to meet targets, according to the Independent.

Most universities surveyed said they have been obliged to charge more just to maintain standards as they struggle to deal with a 40% cut to the universities budget over the next four years.

Deborah Swallow of the Courtauld Institute of Art said: “Following the government funding cuts, our fees must be set at a level that will enable us to maintain the quality of education for which we are recognised and to widen participation further.”

Postgraduate degrees

In addition, the MA found that museum- and heritage-related postgraduate courses are likely to cost more from 2012 onwards. 

Out of 16 English universities offering postgraduate degrees such as curation, heritage management and conservation, the average price for full-time UK students was found to be £5,000, with most course providers indicating prices would increase in 2012.

Some, such as University College London’s MA in Museum Studies (currently £5,170), expect to rise by £1,000 or more next year.

Just two of the masters degrees surveyed cost less than £4,000 this year; the Courtauld Institute's MA in Wall Painting Conservation (£3,810) and the MA in Curation (£3,900) offered by Norwich University College of the Arts. 

MA head of policy Maurice Davies said the tuition fee rises would make it more difficult for the museum sector to diversify.

He said: "The qualifications and experience expected of people entering the museum workforce have crept up and up and up. Museums pay low salaries and yet are able to recruit people with increasingly expensive qualifications and extensive unpaid voluntary or internship experience.

"This does not seem right and cannot help to diversify the workforce. The struggle to get a job in museums was bad a few years ago when I wrote the Tomorrow People report; now it's far worse."

Davies called on the Arts Council England to help museums take a fresh look at the issue. 


Will high tuition fees make it harder to enter the museum sector?

Undergraduate fees table (pdf)

Postgraduate fees table (pdf)

For more on the Tomorrow People report, click here


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MA Member
07.06.2011, 10:11
If employers offered more entry level jobs to pre-MA students or those with alternative experience/qualifications, then fewer people would feel it necessary to undertake a PG qualification, thus making Universities rethink what they are offering to gain students. At present the MA is seen by many as the only route in.
MA Member
01.06.2011, 15:40
It certainly won't help our already dire situation, but I don't see how it could make much difference at this point, given the sizeable financial barriers to entry that have been in place for years. Perhaps its time for the MA to finally take action against these barriers instead of just harking back to the Tomorrow People report which came to all the right conclusions without actually finding a way to do anything about it?
MA Member
24.05.2011, 17:16
Playing devil's advocate, perhaps increased fees are a good thing? These courses are churning out far too many people for the number of jobs in the sector. Yes, it will restrict access to the sector, but it may mean those who are already in the sector but made redundant face less competition for jobs? Perhaps this will mean we don't lose the skills and expertise we already have in museums. Give it a few years and things will change, and then we'll get new blood into the system again.
24.05.2011, 16:34
For research into tuition fees in the devolved nations, please see this article:
19.05.2011, 17:27
Ann, thank you very much for your comment. We chose to not to include UK-wide universities in this particular survey because, as you note, we started out looking at the radical changes in university funding for England and the survey grew from that. We plan to publish a follow-up story next week looking at postgraduate fees in the devolved nations.
19.05.2011, 16:11
As the MA is UK-wide organisation I think it is a pity your survey of post-graduate courses excluded Scotland, even if you were primarily looking at hikes in undergraduate course fees in England.
Here at the University of St Andrews, we feel that, as one of the 13 erstwhile recognised courses accredited by the MA as an entry route for the AMA, it would have been nice to have been remembered and included in your survey of postgraduate course fees. We run the only Museum and Gallery Studies postgrad course in Scotland. Our fees for 2011-12 are £3732, nearly £200 lower than the lowest in your survey.
MA Member
19.05.2011, 15:52
As a student from a single-parent, low-income family, I would like to thank you all for getting so irate about this issue. But I personally feel much less angry about it than those getting worked up on my behalf.
As has been pointed out, the fees will not begin to be repaid until a salary of £21,000 is achieved, and then it will be gradual. Am I expecting to get a job earning this much once completing my MA in Museum Studies? Of course not! At the moment I would be overjoyed to find a paid job at all, and am fully expecting to have to fit museum volunteering in around part-time jobs in unrelated areas. I was aware of the situation when I started saving to pay my 'up front' MA fees 3 years ago, and I am still aware now. However I am passionate about museums and the heritage sector as a whole, and so consider this to be necessary. Yes, it would have been easier if my fees had been paid for me by rich parents or waived by the university, but would this not lead to even more museums graduates each year? And still fighting for the same number of (or now even fewer!) jobs. I don't think that the fees are the issue here.
Personally I find the need to have volunteering and experience on my CV far harder than the formal educational elements. But how many of those who are complaining so loudly about the fees hike would HONESTLY chose an inexperienced graduate when recruiting, over somebody with months or years of valuable volunteering being them? This, in my opinion, is where the real problems with diversity will arise.
19.05.2011, 12:11
This is so disappointing. As has already been pointed out, museums jobs do not pay well, with pay rises small and difficult to negotiate. The prospect of entering this type of job deeply in debt will just serve to put students off altogether. Leicester University, well-known for its museum studies department, is one of those to charge £9,0000. It says it is 'the most socially inclusive of Britain's top universities' and has an £8m scholarship programme for students from poorer backgrounds, but what about all those in between? This will not support diversity, it will undermine it.
18.05.2011, 23:12
Of course higher tuition fees make a low paid job less attractive. Total no-brainer.