Are we Wasting our Time with Arts and Humanities Degrees?

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In a generation tormented with the increasing pressures of achieving financial stability, a growing number of students are opting for STEM subjects and careers rather than the supposedly “indulgent” arts and humanities discipline.

An important question to be asked is whether the change in our awareness of financial instability has altered the perception of university degrees.  Degrees such as medicine and engineering can be provided with nine-to-five teaching, whilst humanities subjects can average around ten to fifteen hours per week.  Considering the extortionate prices of university degrees, the security of a definitive career path and acceptable contact times is more appealing to a money-thirsty generation than ever before.  The contact hours at university appear disproportionate to the costs. This disproportionality only increases as the contact hours drop throughout your degree, which happens in many arts and humanities subjects. 

Furthermore, the diversity of our generation must be considered.  When applying for university all types of people are attempting to find their right fit, as much as the university is trying to find theirs.  If all subjects were to follow this strict ruling of nine-to-five teaching, the overall enjoyment of the students would surely suffer.  Schools appear to focus on the benefits of choosing STEM-related subjects; whilst appealing to some, this is a nightmare for other students.  Schools are attempting to format creative subjects into the same rigid mould as STEM subjects.  The focus of English is now predominantly on memorising and reciting quotations in an exam, rather than providing an outlet for individual expression.

Rather than focusing primarily on value for money of university degrees, students should focus on their passions and aspirations.  The essayist Jonathan Swift famously wrote “A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart”.  In an ideal world a student’s aspiration and passion would provide them with a stable career and comfortable finances.  However, this new technological age creates unexplored career paths for the younger generation to pursue with excited trepidation.  This fear of the unknown deters us from subjects and degrees which don’t have mapped out career plans.  Disciplines such as law and medicine allow students to have a guarantee of “money in their head”, whereas the possibilities which arts and humanities degrees offer are swept aside in comparison.

A point that is evidenced in The Telegraph, which found the ten courses producing the highest earners five years after graduation in 2015/16 were business, computing, law, economics and maths.  In contrast, Glassdoor reviewed the highest paying jobs in the United Kingdom, placing marketing executive at number three.  This derails the claim that arts and humanities subjects cannot be as profitable as STEM degrees, with the third highest paying job accepting students who have achieved academic qualifications in non-STEM subjects.  This proves that your degree does not define you.  As easily as a medical student becoming a world-renowned surgeon, a humanities student can become a Nobel Prize winner. 

Arts and humanities may have no “definitive” career path, but this allows these students to unlock a wide scope of opportunities and prospects which can be blocked when studying STEM subjects.  Whilst there is an undeniable shift of focus onto STEM subjects in schools, the media appears to be misrepresenting the benefits of arts and humanities.  The world would become a very dull space without the writers, artists and creatives who contribute and improve our everyday lives alongside medics and engineers.