Humanities vital for humanity - experts

Last updated 12:00 12/12/2013

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The Bachelor of Bugger All? Not if some of New Zealand's humanities heads can make a difference.

International education experts have descended on Palmerston North to push the importance of the humanities in modern society.

Massey University launched its WH Oliver Humanities Research Academy last night, named after Feilding-born scholar Bill Oliver whose work challenged Kiwis to question who we are as people and earned him a Prime Minister's Award in 2008.

The academy is aimed at lifting the profile of the humanities by fostering a strong research culture recognised by society. Kiwi education experts have said this week the humanities are taking a hit when it comes to the agenda of New Zealand's higher education with less support from the Government as it focuses on areas of skill shortage such as science.

Academy head Associate Professor Kerry Taylor said humanities was neglected, overlooked and undervalued.

The stereotype that a Bachelor of Arts is a "Bachelor of Bugger All" needed to be reconsidered as the "Bachelor of Bloody Awesome" because humanities graduates' input in society was creating critical thinkers crucial to democracy, he said.

These were concerns held by institutes internationally, Oxford University's head of humanities Professor Shearer West said.

She was the UK's director of research at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, a Government entity, before joining Oxford.

"I don't like to polarise humanities with science - we're all part of a research landscape that is all important, but in everyday rhetoric there's a kind of faith in science that the Government continually reiterates and I don't think it is entirely evidence-based.

"There's a feeling that the humanities are nice to have but not essential, which is not evidence-based either."

International trends show a decrease in funding as the subject drops in policy-makers' popularity.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has said the differences between the humanities and other disciplines are at the margin and moves are aimed at redressing the balance between disciplines in terms of tuition subsidies.

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- Manawatu Standard

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