Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A How-Not-To Guide to Defending Humanities: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A How-Not-To Guide to Defending Humanities: News

Article excerpt

Stefan Collini lambasts 'bad faith' utilitarianism found in Oxford report. David Matthews writes.

A leading critic of government higher education policy has launched a stinging attack on the University of Oxford, accusing it of being disingenuous in its arguments in favour of the humanities.

Stefan Collini, professor of English literature and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge, attacked an Oxford report released in July showing that from 1960 to 1989, its humanities graduates had shifted from teaching to careers in finance, law and the media.

Such alumni had therefore "proven highly responsive to national economic needs", argues Humanities Graduates and the British Economy: The Hidden Impact.

Professor Collini, speaking more generally about how the academy should put forward non-economic arguments in support of universities, quoted from the study and called it a "saddening illustration of how not to do it", although he did not mention Oxford by name.

The report assumed that "if you make a quick killing in currency trading, then you obviously make more of a contribution than if you teach a child to read", he said.

The report "risks a kind of bad faith", he argued, because no one in the university will have been convinced that their humanities teaching was more worthwhile than they had previously thought owing to such arguments.

"This is in effect saying: 'Yes, we know this is not the real justification for studying these subjects, but there are some people ... who can only understand the question in these terms'," Professor Collini said.

Those in government and business were already aware that Oxford humanities graduates had moved into finance, law and the media, he said. …

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