Librarianship courses in 2013: falling student numbers and fewer courses available

Graduation ceremony at Aberystwyth. Will there be fewer librarians graduating in the coming years?
(Image c/o ijclark on Flickr.)

Libraries and universities are two services that have taken a battering during the Coalition years. Both have been haunted by the spectres of budget cuts, marketisation and outsourcing. While public libraries have often been unwilling victims in the Conservatives’ ravenous small-statist maw, the higher education sector has often been a ready and willing partner in the embrace of market structures in the provision of university education. Compare and contrast, for example, the fate of Lincolnshire Libraries and the recent repression of protest by the University of London.

In the library sector, public libraries aren’t the only game in town, with university libraries making up one of several different sectors employing information professionals. A necessary step for any budding librarian in the UK is to undertake a CILIP-accredited qualification, at undergraduate or postgraduate level, and/or CILIP Chartership. As a recent graduate of London Metropolitan University’s now-defunct MA Information Management, I was interested to see how many other UK universities have shut down their librarianship courses, and how that has intersected with policy introduced by the current government.

Aside from London Metropolitan University’s librarianship course, the University of Brighton has also frozen its information management courses, subject to a review of postgraduate teaching. These aren’t the only recent casualties though; a quick trawl of archived CILIP webpages in the Internet Archive revealed a drop from 17 to 13 in the number of UK Universities offering CILIP accredited courses (note: CILIP’s current qualifications page hasn’t been updated to include the withdrawal of the University of Brighton’s courses).

The other institutions to have withdrawn their librarianship courses since 2009 are the University of Central England, Edinburgh Napier University and Leeds Metropolitan University. In the meantime, two new UK course providers, Glyndŵr University and the University of Ulster, have been added to CILIP’s offer, along with one overseas provider, the Cologne University of Applied Sciences .

Even with the inclusion of Glyndŵr University and Ulster, the drop in CILIP accredited course providers in the UK still stands at 24% in just a little over three years. The start of the drop coincides almost exactly with the election of the coalition government in 2010.

The number of students undertaking information management courses is also on a downward course, with a 14% drop in numbers between 2007/2008 and 2011/2012 (source: HESA). There are no figures available for 2012/2013, but a drop from a high of 4560 students in the 2007/2008 academic year to 3920 in 2011/2012 represents a significant shrinkage of the student population studying on librarianship degree courses.

 

 

It seems that since then, librarianship courses have become less attractive to both students and to the university sector that provides them. From the available figures, applications for librarianship courses have recovered slightly from a 14% drop between 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, but on the whole student numbers for information management courses are decreasing at a greater rate than the current average for postgraduate (-3%) and undergraduate courses (+1%) in the UK.

The fall in student numbers can of course be partly attributed to a drop in the amount of equivalent course places, but it is unlikely that the withdrawal of three course providers would account for the 640 fewer students studying librarianship in 2011/2012 compared to four years previously.

Universities saw a £940 million pound cut to their government funding in 2011, compounding the impact of a £449 million pound cut under the previous Labour government. At the same time, post-Browne review undergraduate students began paying up to £9000 a year in tuition fees and postgraduates experienced an average 24% hike in prices.

In this context, it is easy to see how the pressure to concentrate on financially viable courses on the university’s side, and the pressure on students to apply for courses with a high level of post-degree employability and pay, has led to relatively niche courses like information management being dropped.

Put simply, universities are less keen to commit resources to running them, and students are apparently less likely to commit to an increasingly uncertain career in librarianship. Public libraries, a key sector of employment for new librarians, have been decimated by the coalition’s commitment to shrinking expenditure on local government, with another 70 public library closures and a 4.4% fall in library budgets recorded in 2013.

We’ve arrived, in the five post-recession years since 2008, at a situation where libraries across all sectors are threatened, where students are seemingly less keen on a career in librarianship, and where universities are less likely to facilitate that career through providing courses. By the next election in 2015, who knows which other aspects of the library sector will be plummeting off the graph?

Andrew Day

@doombrarian / http://doombrarian.wordpress.com/

Appendices

PG  and UG students on information management courses 2007-2012 (source).

PG and UG applications for information management courses 2009-2012 (source).

 

Number of UK course providers with CILIP accredited courses 2005-2013 (source).

6 thoughts on “Librarianship courses in 2013: falling student numbers and fewer courses available

    1. Well spotted! I had overlooked that as CILIP still has it listed on their website as an accredited provider (subtley shifting blame there…)

  1. I think my main concern about having fewer courses to choose from is the impact on the diversity of skills we will have within the graduate cohorts. When choosing my library school (in London) I had the choice of the following:

    UCL – focused on traditional skills, with modern touches
    City – technology focused, forward-looking
    London Met – management focused

    (Caveat: this is a reflection of my understanding at the time and is in no way critical or reductionist)

    At the time I was an Information Assistant, much of my role involved the core library skills I felt were best serviced by going to UCL. I had the benefit of colleagues who had attended other Library Schools so I could hear about their experiences and what they learned. The reducing choice will surely lead to fewer students getting to choose the course that suits their interests and career plans.

    I’m probably being a tad “slippery slope” here, but I also worry that it will reduce the diversity of graduates, as more of them will have studied at the same institutions and therefore have acquired the same knowledge/skills. I know that knowedge/skills will be acquired through working/grad traineeships and individual can choose different options, but if the trend of decreasing choice continues then I think there is a potential risk of having a more homogenous set of new professionals.

  2. Re falling student numbers, is that necessarily a bad thing? There has been an imbalance between the number of qualified library and information professionals and the number of “qualified” posts for some years? So it might be good in terms of redressing this supply and demand problem.

    However, I share your concerns about the rising tuition fees as I think this will impact on the overall diversity of graduates. I think the rising fees also affects decision-making in terms of the benefit-cost trade-off that people have to make. Before I started my MA (in 2008) most people had the expectation that you would be earning x when you started and could expect to earn y by the time you qualified. This was not true amongst my cohort and I expect the same is true across many others. When people are considering undertaking the course they have to make real-life decisions about the affordability of the course especially if it involves graduate loans or career development loans (especially as fewer employers are paying). The fact that there is not necessarily a remunerative benefit to undertaking this course and potentially incurring a large debt (on top of undergraduate debt) necessarily means that a lot of people cannot and will not choose to enter the profession. More’s the pity.

    1. I agree Elly, it’s not as if the profession is particularly diverse to begin with anyway. I really believe that something has gone wrong with provision of these courses, and in the way the courses prepare (or don’t prepare) graduates for professional posts. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s happened, but I have a feeling that the pace of change in HE institutions is not keeping up with the wider profession, resulting in courses that seem out of date or not appropriate for what students want/need to learn for professional posts. I honestly feel like the first year of my MSc is nothing I couldn’t have learned from work-based training and perhaps attending a couple of day courses, yet it cost nearly £3,000 and required me to write a few boring essays and reports for me to figure that out.

      In a way, though, is this the case with a lot of professional qualifications? I know many people who have done PCGEs and say that they learned everything they know about teaching from their placement than anything they studied on the course, but it just so happens that you need that ‘piece of paper’ to say you’re a qualified teacher.

      I think somehow, along the way, we’ve let standards slip as a profession. I can’t really put my finger on a lot of the reasons why I feel so dissatisfied with the qualification process we have to go through to get ‘professional’ posts, I’m still trying to work out why I feel the way I do, but I believe that our qualifications should take on the format of degrees such as nursing, where you do a variety of placements for long periods of time and spend a more limited time at uni on the theory. There is a disconnect between academic staff and professional staff which I think is a big part of the problem.

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