by Deanne Gannaway
According to the dominant rhetoric of Australian industry, politics and funding models, the future of the world is STEM-based. As a consequence, Australian higher education appears to be moving towards a STEM-centric world. Humanities and social sciences (HASS) are relegated to the past, perceived as un-inventive and irrelevant.
We are consistently told that the future world will need flexible, fluid, global workers, who can switch between different kinds of knowledge and different ways of thinking, who can be responsive and innovative. The quintessential element of innovation, and intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship is human: as developers, designers, users, consumers… And who knows and understands humans better than social scientist and humanities specialists? Humans past, present and future. Who better trained in working through multiple choices, in flexible patterns, through and across diverse disciplines than Bachelor of Arts (BA) students – still the way that most Australian students experience HASS. Thus, it could be argued that the foundation of an innovative future can be found in HASS and that BA graduates are catalysts for that future.
Unfortunately, at a time when countries like Canada and China are actively investing in understanding human elements in innovation, Australia is in danger of losing traction in this space. HASS disciplines are increasingly devalued – the result of reliance on employment rates on graduation as a quality measurement and the absence of vocational outcomes directly linked with particular professions. This view reinforces short-sighted fixation on jobs on graduation rather than longer term educational outcomes, a situation perceived to kerb prospective student enrolments. These perceptions threaten the continued survival of many HASS disciplines, as ongoing funding is inextricably linked to student enrolment numbers.
Simply incorporating Arts into a STEAMy acronym is no adequate replacement. HASS then becomes a handmaiden to the sciences; a mechanism to communicate, excuse or market STEM developments. What Australian higher education needs is a revaluing of the vital contribution that HASS education can and should make to an unknown future.
Dr Deanne Gannaway
Senior Lecturer, Higher Education Institute of Teaching and Learning Innovation
Senior Curriculum Consultant, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Queensland
National Teaching Fellowship 2017
ALTF 2019 Legacy Report here