My daughter’s planning an arts (humanities) degree. I’m proud (and quietly terrified)

As an Arts graduate myself, I have a degree of sympathy with the lady below but I think she is out of touch with the modern world. Instead of introducing kids to great literature and ideas of the past, a modern Arts degree is more likely to be dominated by "theory" aka Marxism. Arts faculties these days are little more than Madrassas of Leftism. They close minds rather than open them.

I greatly enjoyed the introduction to the humanities that I got from my education but I am not sure where you could get anything comparable these days. Find below what a humanities education can be

With year 12 exams now a sleep-in-filled month ago, my answer to the question of what my daughter’s plans are for next year is always given with a grimace and often followed by discussion about our society’s priorities. You see, my daughter is planning to do an arts degree.

I’m proud of her choice, despite all the jokes about highly qualified telemarketers or the core ability of an arts graduate to add the word “why” into the standard question: “Would you like fries with that?”

That’s because I deeply admire people whose motivation to study is to know more about history, language, culture and society, as well as to expand their critical thinking skills and understand our place in the world.

I’m also terrified she’s going to end up balancing on a see-saw with low career prospects at one end and a high HECS debt on the other. And yet, I read that current arts students are persevering with their course despite the soaring cost of their degree. I confess, I’m sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “la, la, la” when I think about how the 2020 Morrison government’s “job-ready graduates” scheme raised fees for arts courses by 117 per cent. (Yes, it more than doubled the cost.)

To be honest, I’d be quietly thrilled if my daughter was keen on one of the courses that had their fees lowered because they have a more direct link to a career. But the key word in that sentence is “if”.

The parents who are driving teachers out of the classroom
I’ve lived long enough to know that pursuing a course because of parental wishes or societal pressures will likely lead to drop-out or, like several people I know, to a completed degree but not a single day spent working in that field. And, let’s face it, many professions arising from courses for which HECS fees were cut by the Morrison government – to encourage participation – are not exactly inspiring at the moment. Teachers are leaving in droves, vets are experiencing high suicide rates and health workers are often overworked and underappreciated.

I’m heartened to discover that changes to HECS aren’t affecting students’ course choices nearly as much as the policy creators hoped. Research conducted in NSW (which, full disclosure, was led by my nephew Max Yong) showed that only 1.5 per cent of course choosers were influenced by price.

That’s good news because, while announcing free nursing courses makes for a great political soundbite, young people seem clever enough to know it’s a terrible idea to encourage uninterested and unsuitable people into a caring profession.

Frankly, it’s damn rude of a government to devalue those interested in bigger-picture thinking. I’d go as far as suggesting that increasing HECS fees for arts-based subjects is punishment for those not buying into neoliberal views. Especially when a HECS debt of about $45,000 (the rough figure my daughter’s facing, not including the costs of moving from a regional home to a city to study) might stretch out to a life-long burden.

Not only is it backwards logic to charge the highest prices for those courses that are less likely to set you up with a high-paying career (a point made by everyone from my nephew to the Productivity Commission), but surely we want to encourage deep and contextual thinking?

This is especially so in our era of quick-fire social media opinions and increasing mis- and disinformation. At a time when teachers are being told not to bring politics into the classroom, I reckon we need more people who understand the difference between political leanings and the complexities of history. For instance, introducing students to both the reasoning behind the creation of Israel and the impact on Palestine is not politics; it’s education.

If we cease to value thought and scholarship for scholarship’s sake, we might as well all give up and leave our world to AI businesses that are happily ripping off original thought in the name of profit.

We don’t always know what will come from study for study’s sake. When my father pursued a degree, then PhD, in the 1960s, pure maths was seen to have little real-world relevance, yet it is now appreciated for the transferable skills to fields such as computing and economics.

Who knows what jobs will be available by the time my daughter finishes her degree, which may or may not include history, English and Indonesian, subjects her amazing (public school) teachers inspired her to explore. Either way, as someone looking set to achieve a high ATAR, I think she should be celebrated for choosing arts over options that academic kids often feel pushed towards.

The truth is she has no idea what she wants to do when she grows up and, at 18, I reckon that’s OK. In fact, it aligns with the idea of studying humanities which, instead of being about concrete certainty and measurable outcomes, is about asking questions and probing possibilities.

I hope the current government reverses “job-ready graduates” as part of its review of the Australian Universities Accord, which is investigating the quality, accessibility, affordability and sustainability of higher education. Yes, that’s partly on a very selfish level as I don’t want my daughter to be burdened by study-related debt, but also because young people shouldn’t be punished for asking big questions about our world.


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