There is a common misunderstanding floating about that the only purpose of attending university is to become qualified in a specific profession in order to get a job.
This rhetoric suggests that university is purely vocational; that it is a means to an end.
At least that’s what the Liberal Party believes.
But universities aren’t and shouldn’t be factories that spit out robotic graduates of vocational degrees. It isn’t a coincidence that the disciplines that promote critical thinking, social and environmental improvement, accountability, media critique, public policy and the analytical study of the past are the disciplines facing massive tuition increases. These disciplines teach students to ask questions, hold those in authority accountable, and challenge the status-quo.
If the proposed tuition increases are approved, arts and humanities degrees will only be financially accessible to the elite who can afford them. When the elite of society have a tendency to be conservative, it’s hard to pretend that this isn’t an ideological move to push low-income progressives into vocational fields.
In an increasingly STEM-focused world, it’s more important than ever that we make room for the humanities so that we don’t lose the human touch during constant technological innovation.
Dedicated students of the arts and humanities tend to be exceptionally well-rounded, creative and adaptable individuals who go on to pursue a wide range of career paths.
They enter into careers in local and international politics and policymaking; they establish and run NGOs that target some of the most important problems in the world; they are the journalists that hold politicians and businesses accountable, and uphold values of press freedom and democracy. They are problem-solvers for the private and public sectors alike; they are diplomats and negotiators for our nation; they are writers of all genres and styles. They are also the researchers that help rank many Australian universities so highly on the global stage.
But all this talk about the career prospects of arts and humanities graduates is beside the point. The point should be that education is valuable in and of itself. Not all learning needs to be able to be explicitly applied in a professional context. Education should seek to inspire empathetic individuals, encourage creativity and develop new perspectives.
A university education in the humanities helps students develop a desire to seek lifelong learning. Through constant discussion and analysis of differing viewpoints on issues, humanities students learn to value diversity of thought, while coming to terms with their own opinions and interpretations.
The tools you gain in a humanities or arts education stay with you for life. These tools influence how you deal with moral issues, how you efficiently and critically process information, and how you approach problems in rational, thoughtful ways.
As an International Studies and Communications student, I have come a long way in being proud of what I am studying. I used to suspect that my pragmatic parents, both with health-related degrees, were somewhat disappointed when I opted for a course of study that is at best, risky, and at worst, vague. But, three years into my studies, I honestly can’t see myself studying anything else.
I surprisingly like that I don’t know exactly what job I’ll have beyond graduation. I like that I feel capable of pursuing about a dozen different career paths. I like that I am now in the process of establishing an NGO with uni friends, something that I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing, or have felt equipped to do, without my humanities education.
Humanities students, despite not always having a clear-cut career trajectory, are some of the most motivated and ambitious students that I know.
This of course is not to discount the immense value of other disciplines, but to offer a more nuanced insight into the value of the humanities. Positive change happens when we all collaborate and have respect for the skills and contributions of others.