Professor Sarah Prescott: Arts and Humanities subjects enrich people's lives in so many ways
Culture impacts everyday on people’s individual lives, on society, the economy and, especially here in Ireland, on the global reputation of a nation.
In a university context culture is broadly defined as the arts and humanities — history, folklore, literature, film, drama, linguistics, languages, art and music.
These subjects make people’s lives richer; either in terms of a vibrant, intellectual life and a broad cross-cultural and linguistic understanding, or in a more strictly financial sense in the boost these subjects give to the Irish economy.
Such a boost is not only due to Ireland’s strong cultural identity but also a result of the calibre and diversity of arts and humanities graduates from Irish universities.
In turn, these graduates contribute to and shape a society which is culturally rich, linguistically expert, nationally proud and also globally facing and competitive.
In Ireland, almost a quarter of undergrad students going into higher education each year choose to study arts and humanities subjects.
The role of the arts and humanities is not only to produce graduates who are capable of critical thought and creative leaps of the imagination, but more broadly to further the enrichment of society and the economy.
Arts and humanities can boost the economy and create jobs, but the training students receive as a result of studying these subjects also affects and influences the way in which those jobs are performed.
A current buzzword is ‘creativity’, which, loosely interpreted, is less about creative practice and more about bringing a creative, innovative approach to the problem-solving environment of the modern workplace, wherever or whatever it might be.
And therein lies another significant benefit of the arts and humanities: the fact that the skills that graduates develop over the course of their study — flexibility, creative and critical thinking, contextual knowledge, high-level written and spoken communication skills, innovative approaches based on accurate research, linguistic ability, empathy — are increasingly being recognised as fundamental to what employers are looking for.
Educators, employers, policy- makers (witness the recent cross-party Creative Ireland initiative) and industry are starting to see that it is no longer acceptable to ignore the human (or humanistic) context of today’s biggest educational, social and technological challenges.
As part of the preparation for the new BA degrees recently developed in the College of Arts and Humanities at UCD, I have spent much of the last year meeting with Irish employers to talk to them about the internship modules that will form part of our degrees from 2018 onwards.
In the course of these conversations, I was struck by the way in which the creative and critical skills of arts and humanities graduates were consistently flagged by employers, ranging from the cultural industries to corporate management, as not only desirable but essential.
Indeed, the most important piece of the arts degree might lie in the fact that the subjects studied are not directly vocational. As we cannot even imagine the jobs of the future, it is no longer enough for students to think of a degree as having a direct correlation to their career.
The human problems our society is facing can only be solved by widening and humanising our expertise alongside technological advances, and that means supporting, developing, and understanding our culture, past and present: precisely what the Arts and Humanities are made of.
Professor Sarah Prescott is Principal of the College of Arts & Humanities at University College Dublin.