Baser instincts slaked, too

May 19, 2011

While I applaud the sentiments expressed at The Value of Arts and Humanities in the 21st Century forum ("More than just a Book at Bedtime", 12 May), I would add that the evidence for the value of an education in the humanities for undergraduates, even measured in the most prosaically utilitarian terms, is mounting.

In the US, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardised test focusing on critical thinking, complex reasoning and literacy, has consistently demonstrated that humanities and social science students beat their contemporaries in business, education, social work, engineering, computer science, communications and health studies.

While subsequent patterns of employment suggest that many humanities graduates pursue "non-graduate" (as traditionally defined) occupations, this often reflects other factors, such as the relatively high proportion of mature graduates in the humanities with strong ties to particular localities and, consequently, access to limited job markets, rather than any intrinsic lack of "utility" in the disciplines studied.

Gervase Phillips, Principal lecturer in history, Manchester Metropolitan University

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