Humanities say no to careers in curriculum

September 5, 1997

A GOVERNMENT initiative to persuade universities that teaching students career management skills should be part of the academic curriculum has been overwhelmingly rejected by humanities departments.

The proposal echoes recommendations made in the Dearing report but it is so unpopular in traditional arts subjects that one head of department at Manchester University said he would leave his job rather than implement the changes to his courses.

Chris Phillips of the university's careers service said the reaction was sad, particularly when students were so enthusiastic about the initiative.

"The idea that you can teach students how to network, for instance in a university like ours, is quite revolutionary as it brings up the old problem of what a university is for," Mr Phillips said.

"For some academics the idea is heretical because they believe universities are about the pure pursuit of knowledge rather than training for a job and they fear this will taint their curriculum."

Mr Phillips is developing a range of courses on networking and negotiating skills, team working and priority management, which are designed to help students manage their future careers while also being academically credible and assessed as part of the curriculum. He said students were overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

But of 13 departments taking part at Manchester, not one is in the humanities. Departments of engineering, maths, computing, physics, law, accountancy and planning have welcomed the initiative which is also supported by big name employers like Barclays, ICL, Proctor and Gamble and KPMG. "The Rubicon will be to get arts departments to be enthusiastic," Mr Phillips said.

Delegates at this week's conference of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services in Leeds were discussing the issue.

Mike Killingley, a senior manager at Midland Bank, said employers would welcome the idea of universities embedding transferable skills in to the curriculum as long as they did not diminish the academic content of courses.

AGCAS president Margaret Dane said there was a time when universities regarded training for a job as being outside their domain but today higher education should be about preparing students for what comes next.

"Education for its own sake is a luxury that the country can no longer afford," she said.

Margaret Wallis, a careers advisor at Warwick University agreed. "Even the most esoteric academic subjects are developing skills which are valued by employers," she said. "Dearing brings all this centre stage."

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