Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Reconsidering Humanities Programmes in Australian Universities - Embedding a New Approach to Strengthen the Employability of Humanities Graduates by Empowering Them as 'Global Citizens'

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Reconsidering Humanities Programmes in Australian Universities - Embedding a New Approach to Strengthen the Employability of Humanities Graduates by Empowering Them as 'Global Citizens'

Article excerpt

Following the global financial crisis, the relevance of humanities programmes in contemporary Australian universities has come into question. Furthermore, the role of humanities graduates and their contribution to the workforce, and to society more broadly, has also been scrutinised. This paper recommends the adoption of a new approach to better identify, define and embed key graduate attributes within humanities programmes and argues that the major benefits accrue when this task is undertaken nationally by a discipline. The goal of this paper is to draw attention to the critical role humanities graduates play in contemporary society as 'global citizens' and proposes an alternative approach to enhancing the employability of humanities graduates so that their role in tackling global challenges can be more widely recognised.


The recent literature and public debates are comprehensive in outlining how higher education internationally and within Australia is undergoing significant change. This has been particularly evident in the aftermath of the global financial crisis (GFC) where governments have directed attention to universities and their potential to support recovery (O'Shea 2014; Barber et al. 2013; Dodgson and Staggs 2012). Australia is not immune to these pressures (Davis 2013; Hill, 2012). The first budget of the Liberal government saw the introduction of a proposed higher education deregulation agenda that may result in institutions having to significantly increase fees (Harding 2014). The suggested changes have received the support of the majority of Australian universities with one notable exception. In a recent speech Canberra University Vice- Chancellor Professor Stephen Parker argued that the changes are 'unfair to students' and will see universities 'sleep walking towards privatisation' (Parker 2014).

There is now an increasing demand from Australian governments, employer organisations and accrediting bodies for more clearly defined 'programme outcomes' or 'exit standards' for tertiary education programmes in both the higher education and vocational education and training (VET) sectors. This is the focus of this paper, which responds to the question: How will the humanities need to be reconsidered by academics, industry, the university and the public in general? Some of the key initiatives that have the potential to lead this change to outcomes-driven curriculum design are discussed in the following sections.

Universities As Agents For Public Good and Fostering Global Citizens

Recent studies have focused on mapping this changing role of universities and their contribution to economic development and national innovation systems (Holmwood 2014). Internationally, funding streams are now starting to support this focus. In the European Union the launch of Horizon 2020 a funding instrument (2014-2020), with an euro80 billion budget, aims to deepen the relationship between science and society. In a keynote address at a launch of the funding stream, Commissioner Geoghegan- Quinn stressed how 'more essential' the contribution of humanities and social sciences will be to the overall success and impact of Horizon 2020 (Geoghegan-Quinn 2013). In the United States (US), Cornell University recently announced a $150 million ten year strategy focused on supporting students to be active and to become:

Global citizens who practice respect and empathy; seek collaboration, cooperation and creativity; embrace differences and diversity in all aspects of their personal, professional and civic lives; and are dedicated to working together to help solve some of the world's most intractable problems (Cornell Chronicle 2014).

Within this shiftthere is a recognition that universities must support their graduates to foster collaborative applied and generic skills. In Australia, the federal government's focus appears to be on forging stronger links between university researchers and industries to drive economic growth and innovation by establishing five growth centres. …

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