Saving the humanities?

For a whole variety of reasons, subjects in the humanities are coming under severe pressure in higher education around the world. In the United States, students are increasingly choosing to study other subjects that they think are more visibly career-oriented, while in England the proposed new funding model may remove state support for humanities subjects altogether, so that students will have to pay fees amounting to the full cost. Furthermore university research in science, engineering and technology is getting the lion’s share of funding.

But what can be done? We cannot force students to choose courses they don’t want to study, and research funding models are unlikely to change dramatically. But there are things we can do. We can point to the significant social (and even economic) need for expertise in humanities subjects. We can point to the convergence of new media content with new technology, and the significance of the humanities in this process. We can aim to re-invent some of the humanities to make them more attractive to students who no longer instinctively understand or have a feeling for traditional disciplines. When money becomes available, we can ensure that higher education infrastructure is not consistently at its worst in the humanities.

A university system without the humanities, or one in which the humanities are studied by wealthy students only, is not a proper university system. We must be careful to ensure that this is not where we are going.

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8 Comments on “Saving the humanities?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    With the perverse logic of Humans such denial of access could be the saving of the Arts.
    And you at DCU succeed in calling yourself a University with what could be a vocational leaning. Some might say the absence of Philosophy in all it’s parts, but especially Metaphysics leaves the people looking at a reality cast on a cave wall by the light of a man made fire.
    Now, the Bullingdon and others much nearer home might view such as a truly good thing. Remember how they feared and hated Blair for his intelligence and education, such that now we get snide comment about his move to Rome from legacy Cambridge men that should know better. But even still they will not cross him to far for they fear he will wipe the floor with them.

    FYI, on the 3rd of November 1910, the Carnegie opened in Kilkenny.

    • copernicus Says:

      Blair was not feared and was not hated when he was elected in 1997 with a landslide, then he got 2 further land slides. Until 1995. no one was bothered about his rich family background and his private education, and the way he used selective grammar schools for his sons and daughter while pontiificating about their exclusivity and condemning them in every opportunity and passing laws to restrict their expansion. He was a hypocrite. The Labour Party has a streak of inbuilt hypocrisy. We here in England do not fear his so called intelligence , if he had one, he would have asked Bush to device an exit strategy in Iraq and not committed British troops in Iraq lying to the public and Parliament about the WMDs.

  2. anna notaro Says:

    Students and lecturers from across the UK are travelling to Westminster today to protest against cuts in further and higher education funding (story at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11723880). As it was acknowledged by a journalist on the ‘Today’programme this morning, the media has not adequately stressed the implications for the Humanities deriving from the withdrawal of the teaching grant for such ‘non priority subjects’. Interestingly, also today former Royal Navy admirals say that defence cuts could leave the Falkland Islands at risk of attack! This country is really at a crossroad: to defend some rocks in the ocean or the public good & critical spirit of the nation ?

  3. copernicus Says:

    “In the United States, students are increasingly choosing to study other subjects that they think are more visibly career-oriented, while in England the proposed new funding model may remove state support for humanities subjects altogether, so that students will have to pay fees amounting to the full cost. Furthermore university research in science, engineering and technology is getting the lion’s share of funding”

    Ferdinand, what you say is true. Let me first say that according to the London U student newspaper, teaching funding is being removed for these subjects in LSE, Goldsmith College, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and a third of funding is removed in UCL. Imperial which is almost exclusively STEM-based university (it is university now, having decoupled from London U)has seen its teaching grants maintained and perhaps even increased.

    Atleast in England, the reason is that thousands of work permits are issued to immigrants outside the EU each year as the number of graduates in STEM areas has shrunk in universities, and science and engineering departments were either closed or merged
    ( Middlesex, Kings, Sussex..) and the number of secondary school pupils who study A level science only picked up recently.

  4. Ernie Ball Says:

    We cannot force students to choose courses they don’t want to study

    Can’t we? In the United States it used to be the case that most universities had what are known as “distribution requirements.” Students had to take courses in a wide smattering of fields other than their specialty. There was wisdom in this. It ought not be possible to have a university degree without at least an acquaintance with maths, literature, science, social science, foreign language, etc.

  5. Ernie Ball Says:

    By the way, the main reason we need the humanities: only the humanities and social sciences allow for the proper sort of contextualisation of ideologies. What I mean is this: currently, we are living through the era of Homo Œconomicus. It is the watchword of our age that economic and material concerns are the only ones that matter, so much so that some (idiots) think that universities can either be justified as economic propositions or not at all. In other words: if a degree doesn’t lead to a job, it has no purpose.

    The humanities subjects–literature, philosophy, history, classics, art history and more–allow one to put the current rise of Economic Man into perspective and to see that, far from being Natural or going without saying, it is the product of a value system that is relatively recent and that rests on precarious philosophical foundations.

    • Al Says:

      Ernie
      I could bore you with any subject or discipline.
      Equally if I was talented enough I am sure I could inspire you with any subject.

      The humanities have a duty to look after their own interests too, and interact and challenge society?

  6. Westley Says:

    I can recall some years ago predicting the fate of the humanities would be that which is now transpiring and being dismissed as being uninformed. I had hoped I was wrong but alas no.

    The humanities themselves must do more to communicate their value, a value that ranges far wider than narrow economic/fiscal benefits, but which does not exclude such benefits.

    The attributes a humanities education bestows is crucial to developing individuals who should play a leading role in economic, social and cultural life. A few properly educated economic historians in our Department of Finance might not have produced any jobs for the ‘knowledge economy’ but their influence on policy formation could well have saved many thousands.

    People like Drew Faust at Harvard give me hope. Her speech earlier this year at the Royal Irish Academy is definitely worth a read.


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