Should STEM Subjects Overshadow Humanities?

Should STEM Subjects Overshadow Humanities?

Giving you the insight into matters directly related to student life is the Pi Comment column, Spotlight: UCL, Universities and Young People, where our team of columnists the tackle issues affecting students today. With the government increasingly focusing on the importance of STEM subjects, Cathy Meyer-Funnell argues the case for the importance of Arts and Humanities in today’s increasingly technological world. 

As students at one of the world’s most prestigious universities, most of us would hope that a degree from UCL would guarantee us relatively good job prospects once we graduate. Yet for many of us a spectre remains hanging over our academic success, something that prevents us from being able to step into the world of work with total confidence – was all the work actually worth it?

As a humanities student, the recent government and industry emphasis on the importance of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths) has left me feeling as if I should have prioritised future job prospects more when picking what I wanted to study at A-Levels and university. With rapidly advancing technological developments and a world increasingly dependent on the wonders of the internet to answer any question we may have, I’m just not sure if my knowledge of the representation of female characters in the novels of Gabriel García Márquez is really going to be that sought after.

Westminster has been appealing for more people to pursue STEM subjects at university, in order for the UK economy to get the maximum benefit out of scientific progress, as well as stressing the need for those with science and technology degrees to enter politics. In 2017 only 9% of the major party candidates running for election had STEM degrees, suggesting that our current government may be worryingly ill-equipped to keep up with the constantly changing technology we have begun to rely on in our everyday lives. This in turn has lead to a skewed perspective in House of Commons debates, with the vast majority being taken up by issues such as Brexit (still undeniably a significant problem), and far fewer dedicated to equally pressing topics like climate change and cyber security.

Bearing this in mind, the need for balance on the political spectrum is clear. But should this come at the expense of more philosophical and sociological questions? And is it even right to tell students of one particular course that their studies do not matter as much as another, despite everyone having paid the same astronomically high fees and worked hard enough to get accepted into the same university?

The argument for humanities is starting to respond to this apparent favouritism of the sciences. There is an emerging fear that the rapid rate at which these technological advancements are taking place has led to some of the more ethical questions being neglected – for instance there has been little discussion regarding the effects which issues like human-robot interaction will have on society, and most of us are sadly all too familiar with the damaging consequences of an overexposure to social media. Furthermore, by placing too much emphasis on ‘education for jobs’ we risk losing out on other aspects of learning that become essential both in and outside the workplace: qualities such as compassion for others and a broader understanding of different people and cultures from around the world.

Unless you are set on a specific field, like medicine or veterinary science, the nature of your degree is generally less important than the fact you actually have one. People with a degree in history or English aren’t tied to a career as a historian or a writer, just like those who study chemistry or biology won’t necessarily end up working in a lab. The world needs people who can think, analyse, solve problems, communicate, challenge accepted norms – skills one can acquire across a range of disciplines.

I chose my degree primarily because it was what I enjoyed doing and, after all, university should be about enjoying yourself. In fact, the broadness of my subject was something that appealed to me – I studied Modern Languages – as at 17 I still had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. It meant I could still get a good degree while having a wide range of options open to me at the end of it. University is incredibly expensive and time consuming no matter what you study, so it seems pointless to waste this on a subject you hate just because you think it’s what you ought to do.

The university atmosphere has a tendency to breed competitiveness at the best of times, as students feel the pressure to get high marks, whilst simultaneously securing the best internships or graduate schemes, maintaining a social life, or even hold down a part-time job. No one should be trying to make this worse through implying that some have a harder degree and, therefore, deserve to get a better paying job as a graduate. The world needs the next generation to make it a better place, with skills tailored to meet all of its requirements.

Image: Pixabay