Humanities students – what are we paying for?

Imagine stomach pain, a spinning headache and just wanting to crawl in to bed. This is how I felt one Monday lunchtime after a seminar, and 10 minutes of dance rehearsal before giving up. With an hour long Shakespeare lecture still to go, I decided to nap in the library café before dragging myself to the lecture theatre. Why didn’t I go home? Because my lectures are unrecorded, I would miss valuable information about that certain play. The day after, as I lay in bed, I debated skipping my 3 hours worth of seminars. Again, why didn’t I do this? Because that day alone would have cost me £187.50 as a percentage of my yearly £9,000 fees.

 

It’s no secret that humanities students have minimal contact hours. And while I can defend that on top of my 8 hours I have to read (and buy) 4 texts per week, which fills in a lot of the remaining time, I will admit that my workload isn’t exactly heavy. It’s unsurprising that science students, who go in every day, often have labs 9-5, and are inundated with early starts, feel the need to joke that we don’t do anything. However while my Maths & Physics housemate often misses his 10ams, gives himself days off and even strategically doesn’t go to lecturers he dislikes, I have never missed a single hour. After all, I’m paying £9,000 for the privilege, so I might as well attend.

 

We pay the same amount for our degrees, but I often wonder what they’re worth. My degree gives me plenty skills, sure, but actual employment rates are often lower nationally, whereas science students boast about their secure job prospects. If I’m not paying for a guaranteed career, then what? My English Department is a corridor in the architectural nightmare that is my uni’s humanities building, long and dark despite the fairy lights that the head of English put up. It has a slightly scruffy pond housing some ducks in an inaccessible courtyard, a delightful if overpriced café and a water dispenser, which I have to walk 5 flights of stairs to get to. In comparison, Physics has a workroom with desks, computers, and a microwave and toaster for staff and students. It is rumoured that Engineering get lockers, free course books and a free coffee machine. Warwick Business School has a whole building recently refurbished, with a café that only WBS students can access. Computer Science students’ first years are sponsored by Morgan Stanley. Meanwhile, my seminar in a random academics office sat next to a terrifying papier-mâché devil with a £26 book I had to buy myself looks pretty shabby. We pay the same for our education, yet get very different experience…like two people going into the shop with a fiver for some apples and one coming out with Granny Smiths, the other a Macbook! Warwick student Charlotte Blower who studies in both the History and Politics departments notices “one sides recordings and lecture slides are religiously uploaded within 24hrs and the other you are lucky to get the slides. Similarly one has a brand new building and one is stuck in the 1960s. Guess which one is which.” No matter how much value science students can provide, or vice-versa, what is offered in terms of resources should be on the same level, no matter what subject.

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£21,000 is pretty steep for a 3 year Library card

It is true that the humanities don’t produce tangible products, and so funding more often goes towards sciences because of the immediate practicality of their work. This isn’t helped by the current Education Secretary Nicky Morgan openly declaring that STEM subjects (Science Technology Engineering Maths) “keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers.” Ironically this is a rather closed-minded statement by Morgan, who herself studied Law, a social science. With Japanese Universities just this year cutting humanities and social sciences, leaving only subjects deemed “practical” by the government – the future for UK humanities departments seems bleak.

 

Humanities subjects are vital for what the name suggests – humanity. Poets, actors, musicians, historians, and linguists make life richer, fuller and more interesting. Though I would love a free coffee machine in a slightly more modern building to study in, more importantly I’d like for my subject to be respected, and given the equal treatment it deserves. The reason Universities offer a variety of subjects is for the wealth of knowledge that all subjects achieve – working alongside each other. Who knows how much more could be achieved by students and researchers if given the funding and resources to push further? The conservation library at UCL that houses ancient documents, uniting many subjects including Archaeology, English, History plus others could be used to achieve so much more, if only more funding was given.

 

I am of the opinion that all learning is good learning, and that intelligent people going out into the world will do great things, no matter what their degree or how much it cost. Sadly Universities are becoming a place of profit rather than learning. I want to be a student, not a customer, but as the debt I face piles higher and higher, I have to ask – what exactly am I paying for?

 


beth paris profile

 

Beth Hurst should be reading for her English Literature and Creative Writing degree at the University of Warwick, but is probably watching Suits. She enjoys green tea, tap dancing and things that glitter.

 

 


 

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