Humanities hit hardest when needed more than ever

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.

Policy submissions

Select Academy media and engagements

Select articles featuring Academy Fellows

Keep up to date

Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know about events, news and the diverse impact of our Fellows.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian Academy of the Humanities recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and their continuous connection to country, community and culture.