The Australian Academy of the Humanities today expressed deep concern about the Government’s changes to university fee structures, which disproportionally affect the humanities and call into question the very role of the 21st century university.
“This is potentially the greatest hit to Australia’s humanities sector in a century”, said Professor Joy Damousi, President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
At a time when the Government has announced new policy strategies to combat disinformation and to develop ethical AI, the incentives for students to study the subjects which are the ‘source code’ of these industries – media and communication studies and applied ethics – are taking a hit under this new plan.
“Nothing we have heard from the government today justifies their decision”, said Professor Damousi. “Evidence shows that the skills and knowledge from humanities and social sciences training – including critical thinking, communication skills and understanding the impact of change on humanity – are highly valued by employers and in the workforce”.
“There is a clear disconnect in the government’s thinking around the issue of qualifications and employment. Disincentivising studies in humanities courses will actually have the opposite effect to that intended by the government. It will directly and adversely impact the government’s future jobs agenda.”
For example, the education sector, which has been flagged as essential to Australia’s future, is the single biggest destination for humanities graduates, based on employees working in that sector holding a humanities degree as their highest qualification according to the 2016 ABS census.
On the government’s own jobs projections, the top five destinations for humanities graduates (Education and Training, Public Administration and Safety, Professional, Scientific and Technical Services, Health Care and Social Assistance and Arts and Recreation Services) are all projected for substantial growth in the near future.
Research has also shown that the most successful Australian companies rely on ‘skills mixing’, bringing together humanities, arts and social science skills (HASS), with science, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“There are some humanities disciplines that do well in the new funding structure, such as languages and English”, said Professor Damousi, “but the rationale behind subjects such as philosophy and history taking such a hit to Commonwealth funding is unclear and unfathomable”.
“These changes also introduce perverse incentives in the system by making interdisciplinarity an onus for students in philosophy and ethics to study computer science, but not the other way around. This should alarm all Australians”.
The Academy is also very concerned about what these changes will mean for regional Australia where the economy is underpinned and supported by major employers in education, social services, health, tourism and creative industries.
“If this is our government’s vision of Australia’s ‘new normal’ coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, today we started a journey on a slippery downward slope”, said Professor Damousi.
“The Minister today referred to the founder of the Liberal Party Sir Robert Menzies and his harnessing of the higher education system post WWII to make Australia stronger than before the war. Menzies saw the humanities as central to that recovery, both in building a better, more humane society, but also for a competitive economy.
It is a bitter irony that today’s announcement came from a Minister who studied the humanities. Three of Australia’s recent Prime Ministers (Gillard, Rudd and Turnbull) built successful careers having studied the humanities.
The Academy of the Humanities urges the federal government to provide access to the evidence that underpinned this policy change, and to enter into an urgent dialogue to address these concerns.
Select Academy media engagements
- ABC Radio National Late Night Live interview (2 July 2020)
- Mobilising ideas and talent for the creative economy (ArtsHub, 1 July 2020)
- Podcast: ‘An insidious choice’: Professor Joy Damousi speaks about proposed changes to uni fees (Campus Review, 26 June 2020)
- Video: Why hiking up the fees on Australian arts degrees will be a disaster (Junkee, 24 June 2020)
- Why we need humanities graduates in our workforce (The Age, 21 June 2020)
- Plans to double arts degrees blasted as ‘incredibly shortsighted’ (News.com.au, 20 June 2020)
- Students pay as fees rise for humanities and skew to vocations (The Australian, 19 June 2020)
- ‘Gobsmacking’: Writers savage humanities fee hike (The Guardian, 19 June 2020)
- Australian shake-up ‘greatest hit to humanities in a century’ (Times Higher Education, 19 June 2020)
- Shock and dismay over ‘short-sighted’ policy that will double the cost of arts degrees (SBS, 19 June 2020)
Select articles featuring Academy Fellows
- 10 ways an arts degree can change the world, by Professor Duncan Ivison FAHA (University of Sydney, 29 June 2020)
- Cultural cringe + market economics = lower education, by Thomas Keneally AO DistFRSN FAHA (Brisbane Times, 26 June 2020)
- A Humanities education: what’s the point? by Professor Peter McPhee AM FASSA FAHA (History Council of Australia, 23 June 2020)
- The road ahead is hard. Now is not the time to kill off studies in the humanities, by Professor
- ‘Gobsmacking’: Writers savage humanities fee hike, featuring Richard Flanagan FAHA and Michelle de Krester FAHA (The Age, 19 June 2020)
Director, Communications & Engagement, Julia Evans