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Hardly a day goes by without a fresh attack on arts and humanities degrees as ‘low value’. Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University, thinks that is misguided. 

View of Warwick campus building in Venice on canal side
Warwick University's new campus in the heart of Venice to benefit arts and humanities students and researchers

It’s graduation season on campus and thousands of students are celebrating with families and loved ones at the end of three years of dedication, learning and personal growth. It also marks the end of one chapter and the start of a new story, as students begin to enter the jobs market looking for careers which will fulfil and reward them.

Some vocationally-focused degrees apparently open more predictable doors – science, accountancy, engineering for example. Those students know exactly where they are heading. 

Others - such as the arts - lead graduates down different pathways, where the destination is less clear and may involve some wrong turns along the way, before ending up in the high-quality jobs they enjoy and value. That has always been the case.

Arts degrees disappearing from prospectuses

But there’s a growing sense that is no longer the right way forward – with vocational subjects increasingly positioned as the future-facing, value for money ‘smart’ option, and the dusty humanities relegated as relics of the past, which have little modern-day relevance.

There is no question that humanities have experienced a long-term fall in UK universities. Overall, student numbers for the humanities have also been steadily falling, down by around 40,000 over the last decade. Hundreds of arts and humanities courses have disappeared from prospectuses and the cost-of-living crisis has placed an even greater focus on value for money.

In 2021, the government announced it was cutting funding for arts and creative courses by 50% to "target taxpayers’ money towards subjects that support the NHS, science, technology and engineering”.

In the AI age, do our universities finally need to accept the days of arts degrees are numbered? My answer is a resounding no. Indeed, at Warwick we’ve invested £100m in arts and humanities over the last five years or so, more than at any time in our history.

The jobs of the future

We can’t afford to neglect or ignore the value of arts or undermine one of our greatest strengths as a country. The arts and creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest success stories, with the sector contributing more than £100bn to the economy.

"The arts and creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest success stories."

And worldwide, the figures speak for themselves. Over $2 trillion in annual revenues come from creative economy industries, which account for nearly 50 million jobs worldwide.

About half of these workers are women, and these industries employ more people aged 15-29 than any other sector. These are the jobs of the present and future, rather than a dying industry.

I think high quality arts degrees will become even more relevant, valuable and important to future generations of students. So we need to stop talking the arts and humanities down. The constant commentary around crises both within and outside the sector has led to something of a vicious cycle.

Greater integration of the arts and STEM

At Warwick, we have seen an 11% increase in undergraduate applications to our arts and humanities subjects. And graduate job prospects for humanities remain positive. 90% of our English Literature and Creative Writing students were in jobs or continuing their studies 15 months after graduating, with 55% in highly skilled work, and 25% working in artistic, literary and media industries.

However, these positive signs should not be misinterpreted as an institutional version of sticking our fingers and in our ears and ignoring the noise outside. We must keep evolving and changing how and what we teach – whatever the subject. The future will see more integration of arts and STEM, learning skills and approaches from different disciplines.

The rise of the so called ‘createch’ sector, which combines creative skills with emerging technologies, is a clear demonstration of how STEM and the arts are combining to powerful effect to drive new industries and economic growth.

Power of diverse thinking

Just a few miles away from our campus, Leamington Spa – or Silicon Spa as it has been dubbed – is home to one of the biggest video gaming hubs outside of London, with 30 studios, supporting 2,000 high quality jobs, including many of our graduates.

Its success is down a uniquely skilled talent pool and expertise; both the creatives, with the ideas, stories, and imagination to create the next hit, along with the brilliant engineers to build the platforms, optimise the experience and turn ideas into reality.

We actively support these businesses through schemes such as the Warwick Innovation District and provide mentoring opportunities, partnerships, and collaboration – a bona fide success story and demonstration of the power of diverse thinking.

For the humanities students graduating this summer they should rightly feel both proud and optimistic for the future – their skills, knowledge and education will be more in demand than ever before.

Professor Stuart Croft is Vice-Chancellor of University of Warwick.

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