There’s been a lot of talk about dumming-down and anti-intellectualism in New Zealand and elsewhere in the wake of a certain first lady’s speech being plagiarized….and a growing sense of urgency around climate change, global conflict, the economy and Donald Trump. As well as making us all want a cup of tea and a lie-down, it has awakened arguments for and against a broad-based Arts or Humanities qualification in the face of an urgent need to ‘do something’.

However, help is at hand.  Wayne Linklater, Associate Professor of Conservation Science at Victoria commented last week on Stuff that in the quest towards a predator-free Aotearoa, social scientists will be just as, if not more, important than biological scientists in effecting real change:

“No, instead I mean people trained in the social sciences – psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists who know the science of how to engage with people and communities to build consensus, support and change human behaviour.”

Around the same time, Professor Lydia Wevers, director of the Stout Research Centre at Victoria, responds to an article published in the Dominion Post, where she strongly supports the value of the Humanities.

“…the value of the humanities have been going on since Socrates, and are part of long traditions of liberal arts thinking. One of the things the humanities teaches us to do is think, and like science, it is curiosity driven. Who wants to live in world where historians do not question the received version of events, painters and writers and filmmakers do not imagine alternative worlds, and philosophers do not test the limits of meaning? No one can live by facts alone.”

But let’s not forget that learning sciences, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) subjects is also crucial in the quest to turn things around.  There is a prevailing attitude out there that to be a high achiever maths and science you must be somewhat socially awkward.  That people skills and numeracy are inversely co-related. It feels as if it’s OK to declare in a social setting that you are “completely innumerate” but would you be so proud to announce at a party that you were illiterate or hated dealing with people?  It’s probably a fairly good idea, when we lift the bonnet on our broken-down world, and the engine is smoking, that we don’t treat the mechanics and the engineers that can fix it with suspicion.

What needs to happen – and when I am Captain Planet I will make sure it does – is that rationalism and fact, art and philosophy would not be mutually exclusive in practice.  Graduates would develop a combination of employable skills and to draw from both areas of knowledge and learning.  Already there is an increasing number of postgraduate programmes and workplace learning options available to help people make the transition into an entirely new discipline.  So a Philosophy graduate may move into software development, or a Physics graduate into writing and communication.

With our Powers Combined we can solve the big challenges facing the world right now.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and Careers and Employment are hosting a Careers in Focus event on 10 August.  It will feature humanities graduates who are  working in a wide range of exciting and very real jobs across a range of sectors.  While some are working in the arts, policy advice or research, others humanities and social science graduates are in technical roles, or work closely with scientists and statisticians. Students can find out more details on CareerHub.


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