It is the start of term again at university and still, I am meeting new people. We go through the usual questions of ‘what’s your name’ and ‘where are you staying this year’. This continues until we get to the most important question of all: what do you study? For some reason, I always hesitate with this one. The people before me answered incredibly interesting and specific subjects, such as biomedicine or chemical engineering, and suddenly, my degree seems diminished.
‘History’, I finally answer. Sometimes, I’ll add on an ‘it’s boring, I know’ and other times, I am just met with silence.
The difference in reactions to someone studying mathematics or medicine compared to those studying History or English Literature is astounding. Why does our society value students that study STEM subjects so much more than arts students? Are arts students worth less than STEM students?
Throughout school, I’d always had my heart set on doing a History degree. It was one of the few subjects that I actually enjoyed and the only one I could bear to continue studying for the next three years of my life. I was always bombarded with the same question about my decision: what job will you get with a History degree? Become a History teacher? I was asked this so many times that I started to believe that the only job I could get with my degree was to become a teacher. Almost to the point where I nearly panic changed my dream degree to studying French and Spanish because I would be ‘more employable’. This ignorance towards the arts completely disregards the applicable skills that these subjects allow students to develop and the creativity that many jobs are looking for.
Even in school, this kind of indoctrination takes place with the extra emphasis placed on STEM. Extra support groups and clubs for the future doctors of the world highlight how you will be taken more seriously if you decide on a STEM career path. Schools seem to purposefully avoid advertising career paths in the arts, as they are seen as less impressive success stories than being able to show off the next Albert Einstein. The lack of assistance for arts students leads to many young people giving up hope that they could have a successful career in their dream industry, which can be seen through the 15% drop in students pursuing arts subjects.
Our society has been fed dangerous ideas about arts subjects. The UK government’s decision to cut funding to arts courses at university only further solidifies the public’s view that arts subjects are inherently less worthy than STEM. Arts students end up dismissing their own abilities due to the alleged unemployability of their degrees. Any successes seem diminished compared to the praise that STEM students receive on a daily basis. The scare-mongering that young people face make vocational and STEM degrees more attractive because of their supposed immediate payoff after university. The expenses of not only university tuition but also the food and living costs make an immediate payoff necessary for many less fortunate students.
It is essential that we break down this stigma surrounding arts subjects and start to support students that have a real passion for what they study. Whilst STEM subjects are extremely valuable, there are skills that these students may lack that are also of importance to our society.
I love studying History and while many may see it as dull, they have not had the experiences that I’ve had with being able to choose what I research. The brilliance of History is that the student can pick what is important to them and become an expert in that field. Arts subjects nurture creativity and open a student’s mind to new ideas and possibilities that many STEM subjects do not have. My subject may not have a cool name like chemical engineering but it still has its place in our society that can never be taken over.
Photo courtesy of Natalie Y