- 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. 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. 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.