Alistair Hodge, Head of School – Humanities & Journalism at the University of Derby

#4IR The importance of ‘the humanities’ and the value of studying this field in light of the Fourth Industrial Revolution 

I was first in my family to go to university, to St Andrews (1976–80), Modern History.

I remember clearly my father questioning the worth of it all: ‘Why don’t you get a proper job?’ he opined all too loudly, ‘History? What use will that ever be?’

Almost four decades later, I find myself reflecting once more about all this.

Now at the head of a (rather wonderful) humanities department at a dynamic post-92 university, I do still take time to ponder the point and the purpose of such subjects.

Benefits of going to university

There are lots of good reasons to go to university.

First is the sheer joy, fulfilment, and enlightenment that come from studying a subject that interests you, and about which you are passionate. For many students, there can be no higher reason than this.

Second, there is ‘employability’. Since late-medieval times, universities have always provided the skills, the knowledge and the understanding to facilitate progression on toa profession.

For me, however, the most important, the most interesting reason, and the most relevant for today and tomorrow, is that a period of university study can be truly transformative. A good university course – in particular one that is imbued with a human-based approach – can open up a world of excitingly varied possibility.

Humanities and social science subjects are very effective agents of transformation, and personal and professional development.

Lists of ‘transferable’ skills associated with them include myriad useful things:

  • oral and written communication skills in all situations;
  • a critical, inquisitive and analytical attitude to life,
  • work, and the world; international and global perspectives,
  • along with understanding of different cultural, and historical contexts;
  • the ability to relate a range of theories to real-world situations and issues;
  • reasoned judgement;
  • teamwork skills, but also
  • self-reliance;
  • innovative thinking,
  • lateral thinking,
  • critical thinking.

These are the three reasons I should have given to my sceptical father as he hovered disapprovingly while I filled out my university application form:

  1. Enlightenment
  2. Employment
  3. Professional development

Why write this opinion piece?

Well, I worry slightly about UK government (less so my native Scotland’s) attitude to universities: the emphasis on STEM and ‘useful’, industrial-strategy subjects; on league tables and judgement by quantitative metric. More importantly, there is a real concern that humanities and social sciences will be undervalued and side-lined.

This would not be desirable. I get defensive about my discipline, naturally. (Confession: I also enjoy engineering and science.) More significantly, however, much consideration is now being given to what graduate attributes might be required in the future. Which graduate attributes will be in demand in the graphene-coated, AI, quantum-computed and 3D-printed nanotech world of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Skills for the future

Ideas about 4IR has been articulated perhaps most clearly at the World Economic Forum. future.

What stands out is the perfect alignment of these attributes to those provided by a good humanities degree:

  • complex problem solving;
  • critical thinking;
  • creativity;
  • people management;
  • coordinating with others;
  • emotional [and cultural] intelligence;
  • judgement and decision-making;
  • service orientation;
  • negotiation; and
  • cognitive flexibility

Humanities, it now appears, should be seen not in terms of old-fangled obsolescence but as the very vanguard of our global future.

With this changing landscape in mind, an over-reliance on STEM subjects now seems old-hat, too narrow, rather simplistic. For sure the new world of 4IR will need a phalanx of technologists and scientists, of engineers and inventors, but most certainly will it also need humanities and social sciences graduates – and in increasing numbers.

Technologies will change; but so too must personal attitudes, human behaviours and collective responses. That, moreover, is the more difficult and the more daunting task. By way of example, think no farther than climate and environment, in which negotiating change among people, and in society, in law and in government, will be just as vital as the development of technical solutions.

The value of humanities

The value of a humanities approach to problems? Enlightened employers know about this. Mr Jobs knew about this. Messrs Google and graduate recruitment specialists know about this. I, as a graduate employer in my own company, know about this.

Graduate recruiters are really keen on the so called ‘soft skills of creativity, persuasion and collaboration’.

To these I would add:

  • collegial working
  • critical thinking, analysis
  • sensitivity to cultural context, and – above all 
  • problem solving

These will become more vital than ever; these are the skills that will help drive and sustain our future, the brave innovative and sometimes terrifying world of the mid-twenty-first century.

Humanities rock.

Alistair Hodge, Head of School – Humanities & Journalism at the University of Derby

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Advertisers

Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

axiomdynamics.co.uk/ways-to-become-qualified-in-ed…

Ways to Become Qualified in Education & Training, Assessor and/ or IQA Qualifications. - Axiom Dynamics

Every day at the Axiom Dynamics Training Academy, we receive enquiries about the various online formats for our delivery of Education & Training (AET), Assessor…

Axiom Dynamics has liked Axiom Dynamics's Profile 1 hour 32 minutes ago
SERC has published a new article: College Eco Committee Tackles Littering with Babbling Bins 2 hours 4 minutes ago

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page