Neurodiversity in education hit by low-value degree scrapping

Plan to scrap ‘low value’ degrees will reduce accessibility in education and law

Plan to scrap ‘low value’ degrees will reduce accessibility in education and law

By Colin Adamson, Solicitor, Palmers Solicitors

With estimates suggesting that one in seven people are neurodivergent (ND), rights and accessibility issues are coming to the forefront of discussions around ND people in education and work.

Explaining and protecting these rights, both for employers and employees, has became a substantial part of my practice. It is also something I am passionate about, both for myself and my colleagues, within the legal sector.

It therefore caught my eye when proposals came forward to reduce the existence of and access to ‘low-value’ degree courses, those which don’t offer sufficient value for students in terms of learning and future earning potential.

Limited options

If targeted courses are those that carry the lowest earning potential because of the careers, which graduates typically enter, then certain fields are likely to be hit harder.

The Department for Education (DfE) counts at least five areas of arts and communication in its 10 lowest-earning graduate fields, including creative arts and journalism, with other more established degree subjects, such as English Studies not far above these.

If students aren’t pursuing courses for the long-term financial benefit, then why are they? Either for the love of the subject, or for a particular career.

The evidence suggests that ND students are more likely than neurotypical peers to pursue higher qualifications in subjects they are passionate about, rather than those which primarily target higher earning potential.

The number of neurodivergent students in the UK is significant. There are around 2.9 million students enrolled on higher education courses as of January 2024, and estimates suggest that as many as 15 per cent of these students are neurodiverse.

This could amount to a lot of ND people who are effectively having their access to higher education (HE) restricted – not only legally, but by the law itself.

The question of careers

Plenty of students study to access a particular career or to aid in their decision as to which career is right for them.

Whether a law career or in another sector, limiting access to HE for students who want to pursue it may lead to a lack of key skills conferred by studying, across all manner of professions.

Additionally, we may well see a reduction in access, particularly for ND people, in fields where the degree itself is required, rather than a particular subject – as well as fields such as teaching and academia itself.

A challenge to the legal profession?

In addition to the general challenges presented by a decline in those undertaking certain degree courses, the legal profession faces the potential for recruitment difficulties if the general uptake of university education falls.

With fewer people obtaining degrees, it’s likely that fewer people will undertake legal conversion courses – particularly if individuals are encouraged to only undertake degree courses that feed into specific sectors and roles.

This will have a pronounced impact on ND students, who may be intent on pursuing a legal career but study in a creative field first for the love of it.

Like many other musicians, I studied music for the love of the subject, not because I expected to get rich doing it. If we prevent people entering the creative arts, our world would be a lot less colourful and the people with the money would have a lot less to enjoy about it!

This essentially means that a reduction in general HE uptake will reduce access to the legal profession for ND people.

While the proposal for better access to non-HE training is a positive step for everyone, regardless of neurodiversity, access to higher education needs to be protected across all subject areas to support ND students beyond their long-term earning potential.

To speak to Colin regarding neurodiversity rights in education or in the workplace, send him an email at ColinAdamson@palmerslaw.co.uk.