Humanities degrees and subjects need to take back their place at the forefront of academia

Employers may be missing out on strong graduate talent, argues one iStudent

Reuben Nash
Thursday 03 December 2015 12:59 GMT

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Louise Thomas

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In the age of the IT specialist, the once prestigious humanities BA has been brought to its knees; funding cuts, departments pushed to the side, and educational snobbery are now all fresh thorns in the side of creative flair.

While science and engineering students play around with thousands of pounds worth of equipment every day, the humanities student is forced to fork out hundreds each year for textbooks and, if not, fight against dozens of others to secure one of only a handful of copies of essential texts in their university library. The efforts and even the research of students is overlooked, with the slightest technological development dwarfing the understanding of years of history.

It’s time these once-revered subjects took back their place at the forefront of academia.

Any humanities student will have been met with the old faux pas suggesting their only career path will be into teaching. Sadly, this view seems to be shared by a great number of employers. At almost any university employers’ fair, humanities students will be very limited in their access to opportunities; students on a more vocational course - such as business studies - can enquire for information from almost anyone, whereas an English literature student, for example, will be told more often than not the company isn’t even interested in reading a CV - and a well written CV at that.

Ties between universities and businesses are stronger than ever, with universities looking to churn out ‘employable’ graduates from utilitarian courses. For the institutes themselves, this leads to better grad-job ratings which come hand-in-hand with more students and more funding.

This shows the problem is coming from the top down as well. Employers are shying away from humanities students, leading to a lack of concern for them from universities, meaning the students themselves have very little in the way of contact time in their subjects. This can only be a bad thing with students focused on humanities losing out to their scientific counterparts.

So, why should humanities students be getting the recognition they deserve?:

1) Humanities degrees breed interesting people

Anecdotes, quotations, and insight are better for conversation than facts about a business park in Kettering. Supposedly, a quadratic equation will get someone a job, but what about the interview stage? Humanities share a depth of knowledge which allows people to approach problems differently as well as giving interesting topics to discuss. To even sound ‘well-read’ alludes to intelligence in a way that using a scientific calculator just can’t.

2) Humanities students learn to look for the gaps in a source

Reading between the lines and digging deeper to discover meaning: these skills allow for individuality where opinion is paramount and originality is key when approaching them. In comparison, in a scientific or mathematical field, there is a strict path to follow, with only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. This creates more analytical thinkers, people able to explore a source and make a judgment based on fine details rather than calculate a sum.

3) To suggest humanities are a ‘soft option’ is totally wrong

In order to master a humanity, an extremely wide knowledge of several subjects is required: Hamlet can’t be appreciated without understanding Elizabethan England; you can’t read Homer’s Iliad without learning some Ancient Greek or getting to grips with metre; and you can’t call Henry VIII ‘a tyrant’ without a grasp of theology.

4) The media and cultural industries would be nothing without people educated in humanities

Look at the West End, British television - and even Hollywood: they all rely on people with these qualifications. Therefore, these fields are integral to national identity and, as a great segment of our very culture, they shouldn’t lose the respect they once commanded.

In a world where individuality is so important it is terrible to see the demise of the humanities. In order to maintain the very identity of academia and culture, it is crucial we preserve the prestige of achievement in these fields - and give students the drive and recognition they deserve.

Twitter: @ReubenNash1

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