The University of Newcastle, Australia

First year BA students offer opinions on their future in the workplace

Monday, 21 May 2018

At a time when the employability of graduates is a hot topic, Professor Catharine Coleborne, Head of the School of Humanities and Social Science, assigned first year Bachelor of Arts students with the task of defending their tertiary education choice by writing a 500-word opinion piece on the topic “What humanities students learn in the BA degree, and why it is important”.

student at computer

“The format of an opinion piece for a news outlet, designed as an authentic assessment, required the students to communicate in a particular way,” Cathy said.

“We were looking for engaging, perhaps controversial ideas that provided an insight into the students’ understanding of the value of their degree,” she said.

The assignment was issued to students of HASS1000: BA Futures, a new core course in UON’s reinvented Bachelor of Arts. The students rose to the challenge, with submissions running under titles such as “The BA Degree: AKA, the Barely Appreciated Degree”, “BA Students sort through the BS” and “Reimagining the Arts: The Art of Thinking”.

Critical thinking, the ability to separate “fake and fact”, the art of thought and expertise in innovation and collaboration were identified as being key attributes of liberal arts students.

“An arts student understands that it’s not about what you learn, it’s about the way you learn to think,” Mia Fowler wrote.

“It is the sheer nature of the arts degree – the questions it asks and the problems it poses – that forces a student to be more critical and analytical in their thinking, to communicate with a fine balance of subjectivism and objectivism, to unlock the fount of empathy that facilitates a connection to humanity’s experience as a whole,” Mia wrote.

Strong links to the technological age were also drawn.

“Liberal arts education was lauded by the Harvard Business Review, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Forbes Magazine as ‘tech’s hottest ticket’. Each recognising the interpretive, comprehension and literary skills possessed by graduates,” Angus Hart wrote.

“These skills are fundamental in processing the huge amount of information on the internet and drawing appropriate and informed conclusions through careful criticisms of content.”

Katrina Werner echoed the link to tech giants.

“The upper echelons of these organisations (Facebook and Uber) are increasingly populated by BA graduates whose creative problem-solving skills are highly desirable. They are seen as analytical and insightful with the capacity for emotionally intelligent decision-making,” Katrina wrote.

“They are valued for their ability to think big and approach issues from differing perspectives. Their university training has also given them leadership and team-building skills and the ability to connect with a diverse range of stakeholders.”

Tabitha Lethlean claims the BA is immune to automation “due to the creative thought processes it develops in its exploration of humanity”.

“The Bachelor of Arts is a truly powerful tool in the modern age. Through its exploration of humanity and the nature of knowledge itself, it produces a generation of critical thinkers and problem solvers who are enabled to observe the nature of human interactions and in turn, impact positive social change.

“It is these skills that will be in uniquely continual high demand as they will not fall victim to the changing nature of work.”


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