Why we need more arts graduates

As the fast changing, complex 21st century unfolds, the need for people educated to think critically, rationally, ethically and with empathy is crucial, say Massey University academics.

Robots will boom; life will be more digitised; reality TV will sink to new lows amid urgent global economic, security, inequality, population and environmental issues.

Finding ways to convey to a wider audience the value and benefits of studying arts subjects (humanities and social sciences) – and the contribution of graduates to economic and social wellbeing – has long been a challenge in New Zealand, says politics lecturer professor Richard Shaw from Massey University.

“We want people, particularly at this point in history, who can listen – given what’s occurring in the UK and US. These are clear examples of why we need people who are tolerant, who can listen to other points of view and who can construct rational arguments.”

Arts and sciences both vital
He emphasises that the event is an opportunity – in a public forum with a wide and diverse group of opinion shapers and stakeholders – to consider “the strong case that the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences have a critical role in fostering economic and social wellbeing”.

And though arts and sciences are often seen as being at loggerheads when it comes to the politics of funding, he says the debate about value should not an either/or scenario. “It’s not a competition – they are complementary. We do need to be able to consider the humanitarian and ethical aspects of science. Also, many of the great issues of our times – the reasons for and consequences of climate change, for example – can only be fully understood by combining knowledge from the arts and the sciences.”

BA refreshed to meet 21st century challenges
Professor Shaw says Massey has anticipated change with its future-proofed and redesigned Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree launched this year. The restructured degree has new core papers on culture, identity and citizenship designed to help prepare graduates for a changing world of work. The degree was refreshed after extensive research and input from employers, businesses and former students.

“Whether you have a BA majoring in linguistics, philosophy, classical studies, or history, psychology, sociology, or politics – to name just a few – you’ll be versed in critical, analytical methods and with a highly-developed sense of empathy, creativity, curiosity and ethics. These may be called ‘soft skills’ but they are essentially lifelong skills applicable to many jobs and roles in life, especially in leadership.”

Nearly 50 per cent of current jobs are at risk of digitisation, and the employees of the future will require creativity and social intelligence, says Professor Shaw.

Marsden Fund recognition of arts research
Further positive signs for the contribution of the arts also includes the recent Marsden funding round, which saw five grants awarded to humanities and social sciences, and two to sciences at Massey. “This signals a promising trend in terms of a greater recognition of the relevance of arts research by one of our most prestigious academic funding bodies,” says professor Paul Spoonley.

“For a changing New Zealand in a rapidly changing world, we need to understand how our communities, ideas and people are changing. This Marsden funding will help add to our knowledge and our ability to adjust to this change. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is very committed to generating and providing new knowledge that adds to our understanding of New Zealand and its place in the world.”

Humanities and social sciences scholars received grants for projects on customary land use and prosperity in the Pacific; the dynamics of inter-generational Chinese migrant families in New Zealand; exploring Māori justice concepts through a Western philosophic lens; the implications for democracy of how Kiwis understand issues of inequality; and the impact of World War Two conscription on New Zealand society.

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