What if UK universities favoured STEM subjects?
Earlier this year, Japan announced steps towards favouring higher education courses that “better meet society’s needs” in their national universities by cutting from humanities and social sciences. Sophie Cheraitia gives her opinion on whether the UK should do the same.
The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, announced earlier this year that the national universities of Japan will have to reduce, or even eliminate, their academic courses in humanities and social sciences. The intention is to create a “more practical vocational education that better anticipates needs of society.” Though nothing of this kind has presently been raised here in the UK, it is an interesting topic for discussion. After all, isn’t university designed to enable us to study a subject we are passionate about, or should selected ‘practical’ courses be made the priority?
For a society to function, three components can be regarded as integral: a legal system, economic foundations and a political structure. In this sense STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects are vital for the foundations of a society to function, but in order for a society to progress humanities and social sciences also need to play a part. Having labourers build schools and hospitals, scientists to then work within those hospitals, and engineers to build transport links leaves a world manufactured for the economy. By making citizens work towards a collective economic aim we are eradicating the appreciation of knowledge and ability to critique the world around us.
It could be said that humanities are based on opinion, beliefs and values. So is it fair to say that these subjects are insignificant to society?
Of course not. Without history, we would not be able to reflect on past mistakes and thus improve our future. After studying the horrors of Nazi Germany, we are now more alert to what the dangers of prejudice and discrimination can lead to. Law, politics and economics are also vital in order to debate what should, or should not, shape our collective future, and to help people understand the consequences and application of technology.
Social sciences like sociology and psychology enable us to understand the world and its cultures, and determine why people behave the way they do, working with the legal system to make our environment safer.
The study of English Literature also enables us to analyse our society, and appreciate our world. In fact, the Romantics wrote in order to extend peoples’ disbelief through the use of myths, the appreciation of nature and the sublime, drawing people away from scientific rationality and the industrial age. In this way literature and art can act as escapism from the rational world and allow interpretation, which helps to shape our culture.
If you think of the order of various subjects in a triangular shape, I believe at the bottom of the triangle would be the stem subjects – essential to the construction of society, but ultimately, still the bottom layer of the shape. Upon that would be the humanities and social sciences at the apex of the triangle, which are not necessarily more important than the study of maths and science, but are the leading voice which follow from the STEM subjects, making society more critical, knowledgeable and expressive.
If UK universities did eliminate other subjects, society would be shaped for commerce and have no room for further development. In this sense, what kind of life would we lead if we just focus on the factual, the constructive, and the practical? Brits cannot afford to be any more shallow than we are already labelled as; we need to stimulate our society with more than just manual labour, and extend our knowledge wider than what happened on EastEnders last night.