An article which appeared in this weekend’s Sunday Star Times and also on Stuff (here) describes how, despite a tight job market, twice as many students are studying creative arts as information technology, with more than a third of university students choosing to study society, cultural or creative arts subjects. This is compared to only 6% of students studying engineering.
While this is an interesting article, I think the author makes some key errors. Around New Zealand, the intake for engineering degrees is restricted. This is the same for other science related degrees – medicine, pharmacy, physiotherapy etc. I’m not sure if this is the same for many arts degrees, which are also much less expensive to run. If we want to increase the number of engineers the universities themselves will have to alter their course intakes.
Also, by apparently restricting itself to universities, these figures ignore the engineering graduates and other science based graduates coming out of some of our polytechnics.
With the “fastest-moving jobs in February of this year being in manufacturing, administration, education, energy industry and information technology” there is some concern from the business sector that are universities are not meeting New Zealand’s future need with “employers tend(ing) to cry out for degrees that cover science, technology, engineering and maths” (a hint at STEM perhaps?).
While I agree that New Zealand would certainly benefit from more science graduates, we also need to be careful that we recognise the valuable contributions of arts graduates.
Having said that, some of the comments in the article used to point out the value of an arts degree are a little weak. AUT vice-chancellor Derek McCormack points out the arts students learn “vital skills, including essay writing, analysis and communication skills.”
Do I need to point out that these skills area also gained from a well run science course? The degree at my own institution includes two communication related courses. Higher level science courses also include some essay writing (and how often in everyday life do most people actually have to write essays anyway).
So if New Zealand needs more graduates in science related subjects what needs to be done? Should we have incentives to study sciences? Do we need better career advice in schools that reflects the needs of the job market? Do we need to do more to keep school students interested in science so that they actually want a career in science?