*CGHE* Resilience, flexibility, and normativity: rethinking the role of the Humanities in the economy

The purpose of Higher Education is increasingly framed in economic terms: as a means for graduates to gain a positional advantage in the labour market and increase their earnings while also ensuring ‘the economy’ is supplied with workers with the knowledge and skills demanded by employers. Consequently, graduate labour market outcomes and salary returns are increasingly used to measure the quality of education and training and as a key regulatory mechanism in Tertiary Education systems around the world. Arts and Humanities subjects, at an aggregate level, tend to provide relatively modest labour market returns to graduates, particularly compared to STEM and medical science subjects, and often face intense criticism for failing to provide students with the skills demanded by employers. Consequently, the Humanities find themselves in a rumbling state of crisis and having to justify their value and importance in the face of these critical economic discourses.

Such justifications largely fall into three main arguments: approaches that emphasise the intrinsic value of the Humanities to society; approaches that emphasise the long term labour market value of transferable skills associated with humanities subjects for individual graduate; and arguments that emphasise the broader value of the creative industries to the economy at a macro level. However, neither sidestepping the economic critique or rooting justifications in economic orthodoxy has succeeded in providing a truly compelling response to concerns about poor employment outcomes or skills mismatch. The economic critiques and the different forms of advocacy rarely come together in meaningful dialogue.

Therefore, in this presentation, I argue that there needs to be a fundamentally shift in the discourse and the mode of justifying the Humanities by problematising orthodox assumptions around and the role Humanities Graduates can and, in normative terms, should play in the economy. Using the concept of narrative, I will argue that the ‘narrative skills’ humanities graduates develop, while not necessarily closely aligned with technical skills demands, are key for increasingly fragile and uncertain labour markets marked by job churn, rapid transformation and technological development. They lead to resilient employees able to navigate economic uncertainty in a flexible manner. However, more importantly, narrative skills are crucial for envisioning new social and economic futures, imperative given the pressure for economic transformation in the face of the climate disaster. Therefore, in this webinar I will argue that the Humanities have a critical, normative role in developing graduates with the skills to become agents of meaningful economic change.