How would a crackdown on 'low-value degrees' affect Sheffield?
Plus, torrential rain at Tramlines
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
Sheffield during the summer feels like a very different place. Students are such a big part of city life that it feels noticeably quieter when they leave for their long summer break. However, if the government gets its way, might it soon be a bit quieter in term time as well? Under plans announced by the education secretary, universities that offer “low-value degrees” could see their student numbers capped. The government say they want to ensure that students are not ripped off. But could the plans also cut off a route to higher education for many young people? And how would the proposals affect Sheffield economically?
Also in this briefing: Sheffield stories from The Washington Post and The New York Times, a forecast on whether the weather will improve after last weekend’s downpour and a beautiful two-bedroom home in Crookesmoor.
Catch up and coming up
Ever heard the one about the politician who was a nice person? No, we haven’t either — but it seems like South Yorkshire’s mayor Oliver Coppard is the real deal. Daniel Timms spent a fortnight with him for our incredible weekend read. You can check it out here.
Last week, our paying members received two extra emails in their inbox. On Tuesday, Dan spent an afternoon communing with the dead in Sheffield General Cemetery. And, on Thursday, he spoke to someone who knew notorious online troll Katie Bell, recently jailed for her sustained reign of unpleasantness, to try to understand what could motivate a young woman to cruelly abuse strangers online. Here’s an extract from that piece:
“I can normally work people out but Katie is just very different,” she tells me. “She’s a closed book.” Bell now lives in Stradbroke, but came from the Manor and went to school near to where she grew up. Stories about her being bullied are well-known in the area, with tales of her being pelted with eggs outside school one day just one example of how mean other children could be to her.
How much this has led to her behaviour online is difficult to ascertain though, mainly because she never opens up to anyone. “You can tell she’s got stuff going on but you can't read what she's thinking,” she says. “It doesn't show on her face.”
And we have even more excitement coming up this week. Tomorrow, we’ve been lucky enough to receive permission to share an extract from Catherine Taylor’s memoir The Stirrings, about her childhood in Sheffield during the 70s and 80s. It’s already received fantastic reviews, including one from Eimear McBride (author of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing) who described it as “a pleasure and a shock”. And on Thursday I’ll be publishing a story about the new company trying to repair the reputation of the city’s bouncers through “security done differently”.
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Editor’s note: Restaurant owners, staff and enthusiasts, we’re working on a piece about food hygiene and would love to hear from you! How hard is it to get a good hygiene rating and how much of an impact does a bad rating have on your business? On the flip side, have you ever fallen ill after eating at a sub-par food outlet in Sheffield? You can contact me at email@example.com.
The big picture: Tramlines in torrential rain ☔
The wet weather this weekend wasn’t enough to put off the thousands of people who headed to Hillsborough Park for Tramlines (although it has left the park a bit of a state). This picture, taken by Paul Heaton for Tramlines, shows the crowd still ecstatic to be there despite the downpour.
This week’s weather 🌦
Our forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who predict a brief respite to start the week, followed by more low pressure to the west, especially from Wednesday onwards.
Monday 🌦 After a dull and damp start, conditions brighten from the north with only a few showers to worry about. A rather cool feel with 18°C at best.
Tuesday 🌦 Not a lot of change with further bright spells and the risk of one or two showers with some staying dry. Westerly winds and highs of 19°C.
Wednesday 🌦 The low developing out to the west will drag in warmer air, but bring increased cloud and a rain risk by evening/night. Highs of 20°C.
Thursday 🌦 Some early rain remnants likely, with cloud eventually breaking to brighter periods and the odd shower. Breezy from the west with 21°C the high.
Friday ⛅️ Still the chance of a shower, but with a weak ridge across the south there's a good chance of a dry and bright day. Highs of around 21°C.
Outlook: Cooler and showery for the weekend as low pressure clips across northern UK — summer’s still on hold!
The big story: How would a crackdown on 'low-value degrees' affect Sheffield?
Top line: Rishi Sunak’s government says they want to crack down on what they are calling “low-value degrees”, meaning courses which do not lead to either a graduate level position, further study or someone starting their own business. What could that mean for Sheffield?
The plans: Earlier this year, the Office for Students (OfS) — the body which regulates universities in England — consulted on plans to limit the number of students universities were able to recruit on to courses that were failing to deliver good outcomes for graduates.
Under the plans all undergraduate degree level courses will be expected to have 80% of their students continuing into the second year of their course.
They also say 75% should complete the course of study, while 60 per cent should go into “professional employment or further study” after graduating.
A student city: Whether the government has considered the impact such a policy could have on Sheffield is unclear. During term time, the city is home to around 60,000 students, split evenly between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University. The two universities also employ 20,000 people and support many more jobs in the wider city. A study from 2020 found that the city’s two universities added £1 billion to the economy every year.
Homegrown students: Of the city’s two universities, Sheffield Hallam and its students would have most to lose from the policy. Around 65% of Hallam’s 30,000 students are either from disadvantaged or underrepresented backgrounds or vulnerable groups. 97% of Hallam students are from state schools and colleges, while more than half are the first in their family to attend university.
If certain courses were to be withdrawn from Hallam, this could mean that less well off students could find it much harder to study for humanities and arts degrees.
An early indication of this was seen last year when Hallam withdrew its English Literature degree, potentially cutting off the subject to many local young people.
Parity of esteem: The government claims they want to replace these “rip-off” courses with better vocational education, but giving technical qualifications so-called “parity of esteem” with university education has been the holy grail of the education system for decades. At FE level, the government brought in T-Levels as a technical equivalent to A-Levels and rival to BTECs in 2017, but last week these too were criticised by Ofsted for offering poor value to students and having high drop out rates.
Foreign students: At the same time as cracking down on supposed “low-value degrees”, in order to meet their net migration targets, the government is also making it more difficult for international students to study here by stopping them bringing dependents with them.
International students contributed £290 million to Sheffield Central in 2018/19, making it the top constituency for net economic impact in the UK.
This means that on average, everyone in the area is financially better off by £2,520 as a direct result of the international students at our universities.
Our take: People moan about Sheffield being too student centric, especially in terms of housing, but the truth is that without them, our city’s economy simply wouldn’t work. Without a plan for how to replace the income that could be lost, this policy is economic madness. But it’s about more than economics too. Sure, going to university is about getting a job at the end of it, but education has a value in its own right as well. The continuing marketisation of education risks losing sight of that, and making certain subjects the preserve of the well off.
Home of the week 🏡
I’m a sucker for a colourful home — boo to the current trend for greige (grey-beige) interiors — and this two-bedroom terraced house in Crookesmoor is gorgeous. Overlooking Ponderosa Park, it has a wood-burning stove in the living room and a nice little garden at the back. There’s also a cellar that could be converted into a second living room or bedroom, or used for storage. This place is on the market for £175,000.
Tribune Tips: If you want to tell us about a story or give us some information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity.
Our media picks 🎧
‘Pracademics,’ professors who work outside the academy, win new respect 🎓 The Washington Post holds up Sheffield Hallam University as a leading example of the new emphasis on “pracademics” — academics who have practical experience in their field. According to Teri-Lisa Griffiths, a former youth worker who teaches criminology at Hallam, pracademics are “very popular with students” because they can “bring alive theory by describing their own experiences”.
Can ‘Miss Saigon’ Be Saved? Two British Shows Disagree 🎭 Where the Tribune leads, The New York Times follows. They’ve published their own take on whether it’s possible to redeem this controversial musical, reaching much the same conclusion as we did. Stuck behind their paywall? You’ll have to satisfy your curiosity with our free piece from earlier this month.
Beavers could be reintroduced to Sheffield's waterways 🦫 Sheffield City Council is giving serious thought to bringing beavers back, in a bid to clean up the city’s rivers and reduce flood risk. The Eurasian Beaver has already been re-introduced in other parts of the country, including North Yorkshire; their dams manage water flow and provide a habitat for other species.
Things to do 📆
Music 🎹 Ed Harcourt is playing a gig at Yellow Arch Studios tonight as part of the Music Venue Trust’s #UnitedByMusic tour, which means your ticket will allow you to bring a plus-one for free. The #UnitedByMusic tour is supported by The National Lottery and aims to bolster the grassroots music sector, still suffering from the impact of lockdown and the cost-of-living crisis. Ed Harcourt is a singer-songwriter with six albums to his name, with a musical style influenced by the likes of Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Jeff Buckley.
Art ✒️ Learn how to make art using alcohol ink with the help of an award-winning artist at Millennium Gallery this Wednesday. Sheffield-based artist Nichol Stokes will lead a two-hour workshop, from 6-8pm, as part of a programme of events accompanying the gallery’s current exhibition of Dutch Flower Paintings. For £30, you’ll get to create your own floral scene and paint an acrylic hanging heart.
Theatre 🇵🇭 On Wednesday night, you can watch a one-person show by Max Percy at Theatre Deli. Max won a Fringe First award at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival and will be taking this show, Baklâ, up to Scotland this summer. Baklâ means homosexual in Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines, and the show promises to combine “a wild and sexy time” with an exploration of “intergenerational trauma”. Tickets are £10-15 and available here.