Carola Binney Carola Binney

Science versus Arts – which degree is harder?

People get competitive about the difficulty of their degrees. The accepted line at Oxford is that Science is harder than Arts, and everything is harder than PPE – three years of sleeping until 1pm and waffling about Mill’s Utilitarianism, and you still get to tell employers that you have a degree in economics.

It’s probably true about the PPEists, but the Arts vs. Science stuff is a myth. Scientists’ claim to the tougher time is based on the fact that they have more contact hours. More contact hours, we are often told, make a more serious degree: it was reported as a scandal in May when Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said the average British undergraduate gets less than 14 hours a week with academic staff.

I have three-and-a-half contact hours a week. Two of these are just ‘advisable’, and are sacrificed to essay crises with some regularity. My neighbour, an engineering student, estimates that he has 20, all of which are compulsory and some of which involve getting up before 9am. Cut and dry, then – Historians have it easier.

I beg to differ. If the engineer next door ‘does no work’, he still goes to lectures and labs – he does those 20 hours by default. If I do no work, I genuinely do no work. I could skive my lectures, read no books and fail to write my essay – all I’d have on is an hour-long tutorial which, given my lack of preparation, I might as well miss too.

Us Arts students have to decide to work. We have to get ourselves up, preferably in the morning. We have to choose to do today what we could do at 2am tomorrow. We have to turn down a pub trip in favour of an evening alone with our books.

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