A recent article in The Times revealed an intriguing shift in the uptake of subjects at universities in recent years. Proportionally, fewer young people than ever are choosing to study arts, humanities and languages, with an increasing number opting instead for STEM, medicine, law and business degrees. In our continually modernising and increasingly technology-based society, it is certainly vital that there is a good uptake in these subjects, to provide the economy with the necessary skill sets to fill jobs in vital sectors. However, the dramatic decline in uptake of the arts, humanities and languages must not be interpreted merely as a necessary side-effect of a modernising society. In fact, it should be a cause for concern.
In light of Brexit, the low uptake of languages is especially alarming. A lack of vital linguistic skills in the job market should be expected to become severely problematic if this trend continues, since there is already a gap in the market. It cannot be hoped that Britain will attract international investment post-Brexit if the necessary linguistic skills are not abundant amongst job seekers.
Now more than ever, Britain is in dire need of skilled linguists to help shape its new, post-Brexit persona on the world stage. Britain must find her new place after divorce from the EU; this is simply only possible through cooperation with foreign powers. Language skills are crucial for international engagements and diplomacy, with vital endeavours, such as trade deals, hanging in the balance. Linguists are vital, and
a lack of them warrants concern.
With regards to the arts and humanities, it is not uncommon to hear of students who are interested and passionate in these disciplines, but who have felt pressured into studying something that society now sees as more useful and employable. Whilst STEM, medicine, law and business graduates are, of course,
very important, and whilst it is perfectly valid for somebody to choose to study something which will help to set them on their desired career path, it is simply incorrect to say that degrees in the arts and humanities are not employable or useful.
Vital skills are fostered by these disciplines. It is no surprise that graduates of these subjects are abundant in politics and the civil service. Even outside such sectors, these graduates are incredibly valuable assets in all sorts of employment settings. The arts and humanities should, therefore, not be looked down on as ‘useless’ degrees, but should instead be respected as valid, and encouraged for the myriad of skills that people gain from them. Particularly in light of new challenges, such as the Covid-19
pandemic, graduates of these disciplines will surely be amongst the leaders of tomorrow.
It is also worth pointing out that this shift away from the arts, humanities and languages is not merely at university level. Language uptake is also very low at KS3 and KS4 levels, with the government recently
pumping £5 million into schools in an attempt to increase student participation.
The plight of the performing arts also deserves special mention – more and more schools are struggling to keep these departments alive as students are moving away from such disciplines at GCSE and A-Level. This is unfortunate, since the skills gained specifically from these subjects – namely confidence and communication – are once again necessary in the job market.
The expertise gained from the arts, humanities and languages, particularly at university level but even at school, are invaluable. In light of the current global climate, we require a new generation of leaders with precisely these skills, who can help to shape Britain’s Arts degrees shouldn’t be left on the shelf new place in the world. Those who choose to follow the liberal disciplines at university should not have their degrees labelled as useless or unemployable. Whilst the shift toward STEM, medicine, law and business degrees will
certainly bring other vital skills to the job market, the arts should not be considered inferior.
Image: Anna Kuptsova