I am a big believer in Arts degrees. I think they add infinite value to an education that cannot be derived from any other source.
This is not a very popular idea, however. People love to deride Arts degrees, calling them ‘fluff’ degrees, making fun of the people who do them, and love to tout the fact that at the end, you’re not really qualified to do anything.
When I left high-school I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. None of the vocational degrees appealed to me whatsoever. So I enrolled in Sydney University’s Arts degree, majored in English Literature, and spent a blissful four years expanding my mind in ways I never could have done elsewhere.
I really believe that that degree taught me how to to think. That might seem a strange thing to say, but it’s true. It took me from my sheltered private school upbringing and introduced me to a world where things were studied only for their own sake. There is something very particular about learning for learning’s sake, as opposed to learning for the sake of a future potential income; and I think that it’s important that it continues. The study of the arts is, in effect, the study of what makes us human – music, art, literature; all of these things have been the greatest source of learning about the history of humanity, culture and society.
This morning The Observer writes:
“Next month the government will announce its comprehensive spending review, which will cut billions of pounds of Whitehall money from university coffers. Officials are said to be considering slashing the universities’ £4.7bn teaching budget by 75%. This would hit arts and humanities courses hardest because universities have been told to protect “strategically important” subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths. Academics have warned that arts and humanities could end up only in high-ranking institutions that admit fewer low-income students.”
And this is leading to the gentrification of Arts degrees, as state schools are “so preoccupied with core exam results and league-table rankings” that less time was being devoted to the “cultural enrichment often required to excel in more creative subjects”; and as a result ‘disproportionately low numbers of low-income students enrol on arts and humanities courses, fearing they may be less employable than if they take other subjects’. Meanwhile, students from high-income families were more likely to study the Arts, with a disporportionately high percentage of history and philosophy graduates coming from high-income families.
I’m very lucky that my parents funded my degree, so I didn’t have to worry about debt as a new graduate. And I may have lucked out, and ended up working in a field that is connected to my degree – my first ‘real’ job actually stipulated an Arts degree as necessary to apply. But I’m not going to pretend that this is the case for everyone with an Arts degree. On the whole, we may be less likely to end up working in an associated field than those with vocational degrees, and may not be the highest income earners at the end; but I hate that this is turning people away from the Arts because on the whole, state schools are discouraging low and middle income students from applying for these degrees.
I think it’s important that people from all economic backgrounds are encouraged to study the Arts, even if it means keeping Arts degree tuition fees protected from rises – what do you think?