Education Secretary’s humanities claims create backlash

Students studying the humanities or arts are less likely to find work than those studying science-based subjects, UK Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has warned.

Morgan was speaking at the launch of the ‘Your Life’ campaign in London which over the next three years aims to significantly increase the number of students opting to take science or mathematics subjects.

Morgan said: “If you wanted to do something, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do, then the arts and humanities were what you chose because they were useful for all kinds of jobs.

“Of course, we now know that couldn’t be further from the truth – that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths…the skills gained from studying these subjects will come in useful in almost any job you care to mention; from the creative and beauty industries to architecture.”

The Education Secretary’s claims have created a backlash among academics and teachers across the UK, with many highlighting the importance and relevance of all academic disciplines.

Speaking to The Student, Professor Dorothy Miell, Vice Principal of the University of Edinburgh and Head of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said:

“The Education Secretary’s comments are both ill-informed and unhelpful to universities and further education colleges. Data shows that any degree is useful, irrespective of the subject.

“Academics recognise that there are many common characteristics across all subjects and through the Scottish four year degree, students are able to gain a wealth of transferrable skills and knowledge from a wide range of academic disciplines.

“Humanities subjects such as Geography and Psychology in particular present students with a mix of narrative and numerical skills.

“Furthermore, studies by the British Academy and the Oxford Centre for Humanities show that degrees in the humanities and arts are of equivalent value to employers as STEM subjects.

“These studies also show that whilst many students studying humanities traditionally went onto work in education, a greater proportion of these students are now working in the financial sector.”

According to Miell, employers are increasingly seeking applicants with internships, work placements and some form of international experience; opportunities which the University of Edinburgh strives to provide for its students.

Currently, Vince Cable is the only member of the UK Cabinet to possess a STEM degree, having graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in natural science and economics.

The rest of the Cabinet are all arts or humanities graduates, with a third being former Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) students of the prestigious degree at Oxford.

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