Employability through the Humanities: The Sinister Figure in the Wings?

By Helen F. Day.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper explores the challenges to Humanities in UK Universities and proposes employability as a radical but controversial solution. Concerns such as massification, market discourse, tribalism of culture wars, along with resulting changes to teaching and learning, dominate the British HE landscape, leading us to ask whether we have reached the end of a (golden?) era where Humanities could be studied as an end in itself rather than for economic (employment) reasons. Employability (understood as a set of skills, knowledge and personal attributes that make individuals more likely to be successful in their chosen occupation to the benefit of themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy (ESECT 2005)) is currently being proposed as the saviour of (so-called) non-vocational subjects. The fact that most of the current UK definitions of employability tend to ignore individual disciplines and assume that the acquisition and use of subject skills is self-evident has contributed to the notion that employability is incompatible with a discipline often noted for its conservatism. Nevertheless, for students wanting a return on their investment, and lecturers concerned about less advantaged students, employability offers radical opportunities. In the nationally funded Centre for Employability through Humanities, employability is an empowering device that seeks to transfer subject knowledge and skills into situated and Realistic Work Environments (Publishing House, ArtsHouse Cinema, Museums and Exhibitions, Drama and Events) and back again. These RWEs offer insights into different careers while nurturing and extending the Humanities agenda. Creativity becomes redefined as innovation and enterprise with Creative Writing students commisionning and publishing the poetry of others as well as producing their own and History undergraduates encouraging urban regeneration as well as archiving it. Is employability a revolutionary attempt to address changing personal and societal needs, or a sinister figure, intent on eroding the core values of Humanities itself?

Keywords: Employability, UK Higher Education, Realistic Work Environment, Situated Learning, Troublesome Knowledge, Curriculum, Value, Controversial, Non-vocational, English Literature, History, Extending the Humanities Agenda

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 8, pp.61-68. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 610.479KB).

Dr Helen F. Day

Research Fellow, Centre for Employability through Humanities, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK

My role involves research into employability through the Humanities as part of the only National Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning that explicitely involves the Humanities. I manage two research assistants and three liaison officers, supervising projects on alumni, what employers think of Humanities graduates, employability survey of undergraduates and a longitudinal study. I am editor of the forthcoming refereed e-journal The Journal of Employability and the Humanities and am involved in capacity-building of Pedagogic Research across the institution. I am the internal evaluator of the Centre. I teach food studies and have a module on Food, Writing and Television. I also bake exceedingly good cakes!

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