Humanities and Social Sciences Matter

Humanities Matters is a campaign to promote and defend world-leading humanities and social science teaching and research in UK universities.

We believe in Higher Education teaching that is informed by the highest quality research, that engages with society, and is open to all on the basis of merit.

  • These goals will be undermined by the government’s current proposals for HE funding, especially the decision to completely remove the direct teaching grant for all of these subjects.
  • The government’s proposals will create unprecedented institutional instability and make it harder to invest and plan for the future or improve the student experience.
  • More time is needed to air and debate the radical implications of the government’s plans. Britain has a great deal to lose, economically, culturally and socially.

If you agree, please sign our petition.

The recent debate about university funding has emphasised knowledge over understanding and employability over education (especially in the Browne report). But however you see the role of higher education, the Humanities and the Social Sciences still matter.

If you think that university degrees should enhance employability, then the Humanities and Social Sciences matter because they develop crucial skills, including:

* Critical thinking and analysis

* Capacity to understand and negotiate cultural difference

* Creativity and imagination

Such skills are of course the lifeblood of the creative industries (over 8% of GDP), but they are also invaluable in many types of work and are sought by all employers wanting to stimulate innovation.

If you think that university degrees should educate independently-minded, critical and informed citizens, then the Humanities and Social Sciences matter even more. In a globalised world our ability to interact successfully with other cultures becomes more, not less, important to our economic, political and social well-being. If Britain is to enjoy commercial success and political influence abroad, and an efficiently administered state, an informed citizenry and a cohesive society at home, then it cannot afford to abandon the funding of humanities and social sciences to the market.

Why not? – because markets tend towards short-termism and volatility. In the 1980s, for example, when the market principle was first introduced into British higher education, centres of Chinese, Russian and Islamic Studies were closed down because there was not sufficient “demand” for them. For the universities to offer contemporary relevance tomorrow, or in ten years’ time, they need to be in a position to decide what they teach today on intellectual grounds, not on the basis of whether or not a subject happens to be “popular”. They need secure, predictable funding in order to sustain academic integrity.

Britain has a long-established and highly distinguished tradition of teaching and research in these fields, admired around the world. We cannot afford to throw it away. Everywhere in the world people are asking: what is Britain doing to its great Universities?

Contrary to the claims of some policy-makers, there is no divide between the supposedly “useless” humanities and social sciences and the supposedly “useful” STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). There is a complementarity, as is acknowledged by both the CBI and the Royal Society. Science is indeed vital, but so too are the humanities and the social sciences.

The UK government is currently preparing a White Paper on higher education. We urge them to reject the impoverished vision of higher education outlined in the Browne report, which surrenders everything to market forces. This is not only an impoverished vision of the role of universities in society, but also an impoverished vision of the future of Britain as a democracy, a society, a culture – and an economy.

We urge them instead to pursue a bold vision, to recognise the humanities and social sciences as a public good, and to invest in their future rather than leaving them to the vagaries of the market.

20 responses to “Humanities and Social Sciences Matter

  1. Same concerns here in the Netherlands: the need for a ‘knowledge economy’, as it is called here says it all: (university)knowledge solely instrumental to economics, without reflection/reflexion.

  2. We live in a globalised world where cultural understanding, (or lack thereof – punctuated in such cataclismic manner by 9/11) underlies every action and reaction, market-driven or otherwise.

    I have always been a firm believer in market forces, but always balanced by social conscience and the need to protect certain basic elements in society. To give the excellent Humanities Matters post a business perspective, catering to purely short term demand shows a patently blind and unstrategic vision of future competitivity and economic survival – the example of Chinese demonstrates this almost as vividly as 9/11 in the monumental lack of foresight of the rise of China. The latter has left Britain and many other states at a supreme disadvantage, with the lack of promotion of “the language” (standardised Mandarin) leading to a huge skills gap, not just linguistically but culturally in dealing with the world’s second biggest economy.

    Do we really want to repeat the same mistakes on an infinitely bigger scale?

  3. Hmm….
    So you seem to be saying the Arts and Humanities are worth studying, and funding, because of their ‘impact’
    It doesn’t seem to me that we can have this both ways. Either the A&H are worthwhile in their own right, or not at all. I think you are playing their game by citing the economic and social effects of study.
    Won’t be signing up for this. Sorry.

  4. What good use technology or science is put to relies on having first understood and considered what that ‘good’ is and what it is taken to be. These are questions for humanists and social scientists.

  5. My one overiding fear is that we will end up with a country which can produce things of value, but understands nothing of what is valuable in and of itself: freedom, equality, democracy, dignity, human rights etc. it is a mistake to think that these values are axiomatic and can look after themselves without study. Constant critique is needed to make sure we do not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. In our desperate attempt to salvage our economy we will end up solely measuring the worth of a person by what they can produce. In an age of austerity, we surely need to preserve what is truly valuable, and we can only preserve this by asking the right questions, questions which are raised in subjects like Sociology, Philosophy, Theology and Anthropology, subjects which are as inherently valuable as the values they critique.

  6. I’ve signed and I’m really pleased to see this get started, but I would caution against dwelling on the term “market” as a political dog whistle. It suggests fear is the key driver, and that will never engage public sympathy. “Poor little academics in comfy garrets versus big mean market forces by which rest of world is governed” is not the way to go with this. We’re on much firmer ground with the positive vision.

    The STEM campaign has gained ground and put up a good show against funding cuts largely because its proponents are bouncing round the internet and media going “hey! science is cool!”. Might be time to embrace our inner TV historian.

  7. Humanities and social sciences are, of course, necessary.

    What’s not necessary, is state support for second-rate institutions. Lacking from this article is any quantitative judgement on the *merit* of any course etc. being cut. Not the merit of the subject itself; it’s too easy to conflate that. But the merit of that subject as-taught at a particular place. And lacking from the complaints of most of the academics and students, is understanding of the quality of their own personal work (or likely work) in an international context, in all due regard of peer review and so on, and the vaguely discomfiting idea that the work of said academics might just be Not Especially Good. How many medieval historians, for example, does this country need? Some, obviously. But not an unlimited amount where the state should pay for any hobbyist to take a course if they feel like it.

    I assume that we all agree some sort of university funding-framework change is necessary. In this case, it strikes me that the right way to support humanities is not to cut X % off all budgets uniformly; rather to cut *all* the budget of anything but the top institutions, and focus on actual excellence. Measured with all due respect to the appropriate methods (i.e. not commercially as one would with STEM work). I, the taxpayer, don’t mind paying for work that’s any good; what I do object to, is having financially to support second-rate work that can’t stand on its own two feet. This, unfortunately, is the actual difference between STEM and non-STEM subjects. Even if one of the former is not really world-class, it can still be left running sustainably off low-level commercial research funding, and noone really loses anything. Second-rate humanities departments can’t.

  8. Thank you so much for setting up this campaign. I shall be watching with great interest, and promoting it where I can.

  9. “A powerful defence of the university as a place of inquiry and critical thinking, by Professor John Anderson at the University of Sydney in 1935.The problem of commercialism of the university is not new”

  10. Universities cannot become a place for mere economical production. If this continuous to be so, we will see the catastrophique consequences quite soon.

  11. I’m really glad to hear about this campaign!
    Coincidentally, we have the same kind of initiative in Sweden!

    It’s called Projekt Athena (link in Swedish, maybe you can use Google Translate to look at it?), and is a collaboration between humanities student groups from the six largest universities in Sweden as well as the labour union for cultural and humanities workers.

    Our aim is to first create opinion about how few resources the humanities faculties get from the state (in Sweden, the faculties get a certain amount of money per student and year, and that amount is higher for natural sciences, medicine and engineering than for the humanities and social sciences). This leads to fewer teacher-led hours (like lectures, seminars, supervisor meetings), which lowers the quality of the education. In some courses, students get as much as 4 hours per week.
    Our second aim is to try to influence the universities to adjust the education to provide information about students’ employability. And as a complement to this goal, we also hand out something called “The Competence Guide” to humanities students who want to know more about what general and specific competences they have after getting a degree in the humanities, and how to use them when applying for a job.
    And the third goal, maybe the most important, is to see to it that all humanists are proud of their education. We need a proud humanities identity. That is why we have created a national symbol for the humanities, Humaniststjärnan – the Humanist star (the one that is visible on the website). The symbol actually comes from an old star that was used at Lund University, and symbolizes the seven liberal arts. With a common humanist identity, we wear pins, print bags, posters and blankets with the star and one of our project leaders even got a tattoo (!). This symbol makes us more recognizable, and we are spreading the word all over the Swedish academia and education politics. Some administrators at Stockholm University’s faculty of humanities have started wearing the star, and even some members of parliament as well. And we have started celebrating the National Humanist Day in March 16th every year.

    We started the project’s first campaign this spring (2010), and are hopefully going to continue with the campaigning as long as the humanities isn’t regarded as useful, necessary or needed for employability.

    If you are interested in more information, or maybe want to cooperate with us (maybe we could make an international initiative as well?), don’t hesitate to e-mail us. You can reach me at this address:

  12. This may be one of our times most crucial questions: The need for a sustainable society both economically, socially and intellectually. As my colleague Tanvir Mansur may have empathized earlier: Projekt Athena works for the same goals as you.

    You should feel free to contact us and exhange perspectives.
    /Johan Gärdebo, Projekt Athena, Uppsala – Sweden

  13. May I advertise the following panel discussion on the topic of “Valuing the Humanities”? Many thanks, Kristina

    Valuing the Humanities

    A panel discussion with

    James Ladyman, Professor of Philosophy, University of Bristol; co-editor, British Journal of the Philosophy of Science

    Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago

    Lord Rees of Ludlow, President of the Royal Society, Astronomer Royal, Master of Trinity College Cambridge

    Richard Smith, Former editor, British Medical Journal; Director, Ovations Institute

    Friday 17 December, 2:30-5:00pm

    Hong Kong Lecture Theatre, Clement House, London School of Economics

    Followed by a reception in the Senior Common Room

    Organized by the British Philosophical Association and the Forum for European Philosophy.

  14. This campaign is very worth of support.

  15. I support this !

  16. The irony is of course that politicians mostly do humanities and social sciences, how many politicians do you know that studied Hard science?

  17. Saw this the other day on Twitter, thought it very apt…

    When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied ‘then what are we fighting for?’

  18. Although being a foreigner, I do believe social sciences matter in the UK (and elsewhere). Take for instance the fuzz about the Wiki Leaks in diplomacy. If there were no international relation studies in politicology, then this would come as a shock. Now, because of knowledge of behavior of diplomats and politicians, we are not so very surprised or at it least, can place the employed adjectives into a wider perspective on international politics.

    Moreover, what about political philosophy and the foundation of behavior in international relations.


  19. Pingback: Humanities and Social Sciences Matter! | The Sociological Imagination

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