Is the Renaissance scholar dead?Yes
What do we know about the world since the Renaissance? Almost every single forward movement in advancing the position of humankind has come from science, technology and business. Where will the advances that take us forward in this century come from? Will they emerge from study of the 19th-century novel, or being able to translate Hesiod, or from theology (I'm open to bets)? You know the answer, and yet we continue to subsidise 30% of our undergraduates to study these subjects in universities. Are we nuts?
So what should we do about it? The employment market has already discounted degrees that aren't relevant to business. Male arts graduates can expect to be worse off over their lifetime after paying for the kind of knowledge the economy doesn't care about. Do we need another government initiative for this to sink in? Or do we need prospective students to wake up and smell the coffee on job prospects before they end up brewing it for a living?
Instead it means giving graduates the ability to excel in the subjects we know will feed an information-based, technology-driven global economy. We may not know exactly what those are, but we can be damn sure they are not liberal arts and humanities subjects.
All too often universities are happy to pile on vocational-sounding courses while pandering to popular fads. In journalism, there are more than 150 courses available for an industry that has precious few job openings. I'm not suggesting we shut down English departments and forensic science degrees en masse. Let them flourish if they provide an opportunity to study as a leisure activity. The growth of genealogy demonstrates the public appetite for recreational learning in areas that universities barely support. By all means let people study history, the classics, novels, the media. But let them do it in their spare time - not as a state-sponsored, loan-financed languor.
When mathematics, which underpins almost every achievement in our civilisation, is the 20th most popular subject at university, you can see that Renaissance scholars might look at us with something like disgust. If we really want to maintain and improve our position in the world, we need to educate more technically skilled graduates, and send out into the world economy more people able to see sophisticated opportunities and take advantage of them, both intellectually and commercially.
· Professor Adrian Monck is head of journalism and publishing at the City University
Personally i think Phd's in nearly all art subjects are a waste of money (why do we need research into english literature?), and uni degree funding for arts should be cut back to a tenth of its current levelsNo
We have come so far down the trail of thinking that people go to school in order to become foot-soldiers in the economic battle, as if paid employment were the sole meaning of life, that we scarcely understand what Aristotle meant by saying "we educate ourselves so that we can make a noble use of our leisure". In contrast to this remarkable view, today's dull-witted, pedestrian, pragmatic view seems to be that the educational minimum must be whatever is enough in the way of literacy and numeracy to operate a check-out till.
Not that I agree with the apparent implication of Aristotle's remark that a noble use of our leisure is the only reason for education. I think that, in addition, education makes better workers, better voters, more thoughtful, informed, engaged and therefore responsible citizens, healthier and happier people, and a more mature, flourishing, open and progressive society. All these benefits do not accrue from limiting education to equipping people with functional skills adapted to the eight hours a day they are destined to spend at the economic coalface. It comes from drawing out their capacity for reflection, from helping them to develop skills of inquiry and criticism, allowing them to recognise what they need to know, to find it out, to evaluate it critically, and to apply it.
There are those - surely, in other countries and times only? - who would like most in the population to be drones, not too questioning or well-informed, not too apt to criticise, and easily persuadable about things, especially at election times when a few promises about tax cuts and the like can do away with the need to ask people to think (in this case, who to vote for). The reason why such a reductive and manipulative view is wrong is precisely the reason why a broad liberal education, an education for life and not just for work, matters.
AC Grayling is professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London