A focus on "job-ready" graduates is not new in the LNP's education policy, but Dan Tehan's announcement last week to hike the price of humanities courses demonstrates that the government has misjudged the labour market. The effects of this new policy will be widely felt by the very engineers and IT professionals they are supposedly seeking to bolster.
It feels like the LNP is envisioning a world of robotics and flying cars - a world where science and technology drive us forward as a species - but they are failing to see that it's not just scientists and astronauts that stand at the helm of such a movement.
Take a look at Silicon Valley (US), for example. Between 2005 and 2015, only 30 per cent of the 3426 people who moved to this region to pursue a career ended up working in engineering, research or IT. The non-technical career paths were filled by people with degrees in history, gender studies, psychology and other humanities subjects.
This might seem strange, but think about it - with each new wave of technology comes new challenges to connect people to it, integrate it into society, and create narratives that drive consumerism. But just as importantly, BEFORE each wave of technology, the engineers, researchers and coders need to know what the people want, what they expect, and to know that, they need people with skills in connecting with, supporting and educating others. In short, people with humanities degrees.
Slack is a great example of a tech company that is killing it, but whose co-founder and CEO, Stewart Butterfield, has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of Victoria as well as a Master of Philosophy from Clare College, Cambridge. Butterfield credits his philosophy degrees with his success with Slack because of the way he thinks about usability and engagement with the product. And he's not alone. Hiring trends across the big digital companies in the US are looking to Liberal Arts graduates for greater diversification in their hiring practices.
Back home in Australia, the numbers aren't quite adding up to the "uselessness" that Tehan and co. would like us to believe humanities degrees represent. Within four months of graduation, more humanities graduates are employed than science and maths graduates and three years later, over 90 per cent of humanities graduates are employed in full-time employment (which is above the average for university graduates) and earn more than science and maths graduates to boot - not a fry in sight!
And yet, maths and science degrees are now going to cost less, but humanities degree costs will soar?
Furthermore, if construction is one of the booming industries Tehan acknolwedged, why have they cut $3 billion and 140,000 apprenticeships since 2013? And when skill-demand predictions list skills like cognitive flexibility, emotional and social intelligence and a creative and innovative mindset as key for the future labour market, how can a humanities degree not be valued?
... how can a humanities degree not be valued?
Interestingly, an article was published on June 21 by The Guardian about the SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities, Arts and People and Economy) campaign, led by the London School of Economics, to encourage more young people to choose arts, humanities and social sciences in the UK as a means of "levelling up" their careers. Sir Peter Bazalgette criticised what he called a "growing trend in [UK] government to judge the success of a course by the salaries earned on graduation" and adds that many creative arts graduates feed Britain's "creative economy" and that both STEM and SHAPE should come together in "good governments and commercial ventures". This is a criticism that is equally applicable to the Australian government and in light of this SHAPE movement in Britain, speaks only to demonstrate how far behind the times we are. Again.
What is worrying me the most is the inaccessibility and elitism that is now being attributed to this course of study - we will lose our diversity in critical thinking, shared experience, storytelling, empathy, compassion. The Arts allows us to make sense of our progress, our emerging and evolving identity as cultural groups and as a species. We are not a race of robots. We cannot subsist on a diet of technology and maths equations. Even engineers and IT coders need communicators and social engagers. If we minimise access to our humanities, we lose the very essence of who we are.
So I ask you, LNP, are you a "good government"?
Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocate at impressability.com.au