Life is full of ambiguity and uncertainty. The best path through it all is charted when the path forward is seen from different vantage points.
While I recognize the danger of gross generalization, we can say that science and technology courses produce graduates with strong technical and analytical skills, while arts and humanities courses produce graduates with strong creative and critical thinking skills, as well as an understanding of changing society. and adapts. Remove any element of this multiple perspective and society is in trouble.
As an engineer, I’m not at all surprised that many leaders of large organizations started their careers with humanities degrees. The buildings in which we live, work and play; what we watch on television or in the cinema; the phone applications we browse; the books we read; the music we listen to and the clothes we wear, most of which might not exist without those who have studied aspects of the arts and humanities. And this is not an exhaustive list.
This is why the current attack on arts and humanities education in the UK and elsewhere is extremely worrying. Recently announced plans to cut courses, staff and entire subjects at some English universities make it even more important for higher education and industry leaders to reaffirm the importance of the arts and humanities – for students and society as a whole.
Arts and culture are a vital part of the UK economy. The industry generates almost £34 billion a year and supports almost 400,000 jobs. Before the Covid-19 pandemic it was remarkably productive, with a gross value added per worker of £62,000 for arts and culture, compared to £46,800 for the whole UK economy. The ‘soft power’ that secures the UK’s status in the world also depends on the success of our creative industries.
As the country emerges from a pandemic that has had a devastating impact on the arts and culture sector, universities must play their part in ensuring the prosperity of these industries. At the University of Lincoln, we recently had the pleasure of welcoming Arts Minister Lord Parkinson to our new Barbican Creative Hub. Located in the heart of the city and funded primarily by the Towns Deal Fund, it will serve as a community creative center when completed in 2023 offering galleries and creative workspaces. It will catalyze rapid growth in the creative sector, not just in Lincoln but across the region and county, allowing us to harness and nurture local artistic talent and provide pathways to employment.
The Barbican is just one example of our commitment to the creative sector. The University of Lincoln has grown at a fairly rapid pace in recent years. we have new schools in science and medicine, and we have undergone three new units of assessment in REF 2021, where no academic activity existed in 2014. Importantly, however, we have not narrowed the arts to enable this growth in STEM.
As well as being incredibly important in their own right, the humanities add value to a wide range of jobs, services, and subjects that we might normally consider purely scientific. This is why, at Lincoln, many students enrolled in a STEM course also study the humanities.
It is also important that the arts and humanities do not become the preserve of the wealthy and the privileged. The cuts in universities after 1992 will have a particular impact on their typical student population: the first generation, often underprivileged and local.
Yes, education officials should recognize that educational resources are shrinking and ministers’ expectations are changing. We need to teach effectively, attract talented students and help them find a path to good employment. It is the broader role of universities to work with employers and regional partners to help ensure opportunities and good jobs exist.
However, universities are not and should not be technical colleges. They are vast, both in the opportunities they offer and in the benefits they provide to society.
Through the arts and humanities, we witness different cultures. We understand the diverse experiences of others. We critique the past and the present, and we anticipate the future. We must continue to offer these degrees.
Neal Juster is Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln.