A CATHOLIC academic has defended the value of popular arts degrees after the Federal Government announced sweeping changes to high education funding aimed at producing “job-ready graduates”.
“It’s a shame to send a message that the humanities aren’t worthwhile in terms of career,” Campion College president Paul Morrissey said, after Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan outlined a new fees structure for tertiary students that will start next year.
Arts students may be the hardest hit, with fees set to more than double for humanities and communications subjects.
Fees will also increase for law and commerce units, while it will be reduced for those studying teaching, nursing, health, English and languages, and STEM subjects.
“Our Government wants to keep Australians in jobs, and to educate the next generation of Australians to get a job, Mr Tehan told the National Press Club on June 19.
“We want our students to receive an education that sets them up for future success –because if graduates succeed, they will power an economic recovery that benefits all Australians.
“And, when the economy is facing its greatest economic shock since the Great Depression, success looks like a job.”
However, Dr Morrissey said he understand what the government is trying to achieve, but the focus may be shortsighted.
“Humanities are very worthwhile, vocationally speaking. Obviously not to be a medical doctor or nuclear scientist, but in terms of being a good writer or thinker, to be able to analyse things well and not to put everything in one box but to see things more broadly,” he said.
“Humanities are crucial and so many career pathways value that.”
The overhaul of student and government contributions announced by the Education Minister last week will fund an extra 39,000 university places by 2023 and 100,000 by the end of the decade in response to surging demand for tertiary education.
Australian Catholic University Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Greg Craven said putting more places into the system was vital to providing opportunity for the growing number of university-age Australians.
“Increasing the number of domestic students that universities can enrol will help to accommodate the dual surge in demand from the ‘Costello baby boom’ and current economic conditions,” Professor Craven said.
ACU specifically welcomes the Government’s efforts to encourage students to study disciplines such as nursing and teaching, which are longstanding strengths of the university and where there is growing workforce demand.
Professor Craven noted the vital importance of the Government’s guarantee that universities would receive at least their 2020 levels of funding in each of the next three years as they transition to the new funding arrangements.
“The funding guarantee is absolutely critical to allowing universities to adapt to a post-COVID environment and the new plan,” he said.
However, there has been a chorus of criticism for raising fees for humanities courses which could reach $14,500 for a year of full-time study, up from $6684 this year.
Fees for law and commerce will increase 28 per cent to $14,500 a year, up from $11,155.
“Another blow to the humanities when we need to understand our world more than ever,” tweeted Susan Forde, a journalism professor at Griffith University.
“If the government wants to support university courses that lead to jobs, they’d do well to listen to their business leaders who have been quite clear, in recent years, about the sorts of graduates they’re looking for,” Professor Forde wrote in The Conversation.
“Another valued industry body, Deloitte Access Economics, reported in 2018 that humanities and communications graduates delivered 30 technical skills hugely sought-after by employers.”
Dr Morrissey said Australia’s public universities had moved a long way from having humanities at their heart and were already vocationally oriented.
Campion College in Sydney’s west, is named in honour of the 16th century Jesuit scholar and martyr, St Edmund Campion, and maintains a traditional liberal arts model, preparing students “for both work and life”.
As a small, but growing private institution that sets its own fees, Dr Morrissey predicts it should not be deeply affected by the latest government restructure.
“Humanities are intrinsically what education should be about,” Dr Morrissey said.
“In other words a study of who we are: a study of the human person, culture, where we’ve come from, the institutions that have formed the culture.
“Without knowing that it is hard to be a good citizen.”