This hackneyed wisdom seems to have guided the federal government in its current plan to double the cost of humanities, law and commerce degrees to over $43,000, while reducing the cost of those degrees which will purportedly lead to more likely employment and a more productive workface in the post-industrial age.
Well, at least the cat is out of the cage! The Government has unashamedly confirmed that universities are not sectors of higher learning but vocational colleges serving the economy. To achieve their tawdry objectives, the Government is disincentivizing future students from studying humanities and will seduce them into enrolling in discount, more functional and favourable STEM degrees.
The stupidity of this brain snap by the federal government is that the price hike will give greater status to arts degrees. Unfortunately, these degrees will only be accessible for more affluent students, but nonetheless there will no longer be the stigma that the great unwashed who could not qualify for any worthwhile course had to settle for an arts degree.
Having said that, I remember that it wasn’t always so. When I studies arts in the early 70s, it was not a degree to be trifled with. It had rigorous selection criteria and proved more difficult, for example, than the law degree I later studied.
However, in the quest for more funding and empire building, universities discovered a gold mine in admitting anyone to an arts course regardless of their capacity, aspirations and academic results. Many of the functionally illiterate students I have taught have somehow won places in humanities courses!
Another furphy is that many arts graduates end up in low paying jobs and regret ever setting foot in a humanities department.
According to a recent Graduate Outcome Survey, total employment for graduates of humanities, culture and social sciences courses in 2019 was 83.9%, while for science and mathematics it was 82.4%.
A further irony is that the emerging skills future employers are crying out for are creativity, originality, initiative and analytical thinking and innovation, precisely the skills inculcated in any decent humanities course.
“The World Economic Forum, scarcely a band of long-haired basket-weavers, has forecast that the top three “skills you need to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution” are “complex problem-solving”, “critical thinking” and “creativity”. Ben Eltham wrote in The Guardian this month.
In a world of fake news and nihilism, we need, more than ever, critical thinkers and philosophers who began their academic journeys as arts graduates.