Universities cannot exist without arts and humanities

By Gabrielle Pickard
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, December 30, 2010
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Students, ex-students, future students; they are all in uproar in Great Britain since the government announced plans to literally triple undergraduate tuition fees. Actually, the present widespread discontent surrounding Britain's academia runs much deeper than merely being a question of tuition fees. A much bigger issue is: Are the humanities about to disappear from UK universities?

Students reading the arts and humanities have long been the butt of student jokes and consistently being jeered at for "having no chance" of securing a job after their three or four year stint at university. "Media, Literature and Cultural Studies! Why don't you study something 'proper' like engineering or law?" were the cries of my boyfriend's "scientific engineering'' family, when I announced what I was going to study at university. Several years later, their slightly mocking concerns have not materialized, as I earn a decent living out of what I learnt at university and enjoy doing – namely, writing.

Abolishing such subjects from universities would reduce educational institutions to regimented technical training centers, corporate research establishments, devoid of expression and creativity. Having the freedom to explore and question values and ideas should remain an integral component of higher education, the core of university life. After all, throughout history, it has been the philosophers, the writers, the "thinkers", who have been the powerful tools in providing the many wisdoms and ideologies of our pluralistic society – no matter how contradictory. Critical inquiry gives us the power to question, act and implement change.

When "humane disciplines" first emerged as subjects to study at the end of the 18th century they played a critical social role; however, since Margaret Thatcher was in power in Great Britain in the 1980s, the role of humanities in British universities has served the status-quo, instead of challenging it.

Continuing "Thatcherite" beliefs regarding academic subjects not considered "vocational", the government in the UK is not only planning to increase student fees from £3000 a year to £9000 in 2012, but is to remove teaching grants from the arts, humanities and social sciences courses. Under the government's new plans grants will only be available to students studying science, engineering and medicine – more expensive courses, which the British government believe have greater value on the economy.

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