The economic purposes of higher education dominate policy and public discourse in HE systems around the world with graduate labour market outcomes, graduate salaries, and the skills needs of employers increasingly used as markers of educational quality and mechanisms of institutional regulation. Arts and Humanities subjects tend to be associated with relatively modest labour market returns compared to STEM and medical sciences subjects and are often criticised for failing to provide employers with the skills required by a rapidly digitising economy. At the same time, researchers in Arts and Humanities subjects often struggle to show clear impact from their work in a regulatory and funding context that links research value with impact, industrial linkages, and innovation. As such, the Arts and Humanities face criticism, regulatory pressures, and reduced funding. The Arts and Humanities are consequently often described as being in a state of ‘crisis’ and sympathetic commentators, advocates, and researchers regularly attempt to justify the importance of these subjects in both economic and intrinsic terms.
However, the debates over the social, political, and economic value of the Arts and Humanities have been taking place in various forms for more than a century. In fact, the Arts and Humanities have arguably been in a near constant state of crisis since at least 1959, when C. P. Snow wrote his famous essay on ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution’. Despite ongoing crises, some expansions and contractions, and some tinkering at disciplinary boundaries, the Arts and Humanities have proved remarkably robust and resilient. Yet critiques and existential justifications for Arts and Humanities subjects remain a regular feature of the higher education landscape with very little meaningful dialogue taking place between either side and no realistic move towards resolution in the debate at either policy, public or academic levels. A new way of framing the discussion of the place of the Arts and Humanities in higher education is clearly required. Therefore, in this seminar series we aim to shift the discourse and reframe the discussion by bringing together different perspectives to examine the place of the Arts and Humanities in relation to society, politics and the economy through the lenses of individual students, academics and researchers, institutional governance, national policy, and global discourse.