Limited options for Humanities students

The old alma mater (Rorser via Wikimedia Commons)

Was in two minds about putting this one up; totally irrelevant now. Ah sure, it caused a little stir at the time among my friends at least. Originally appeared in an edited form in An Focal November 15 2010. 

This year brought a record attendance of over 2,700 students to the UL Careers Fair. With many of the leading IT, science and business companies setting out their stalls, Business and Science students were well-catered for. But for a Humanities student the careers fair was dispiriting to say the least.

What was there for students of Humanities? The EU commission was recruiting for translators and linguists. Good for languages students, bad for anyone with a cloth ear for declensions. Facebook, a huge attraction on the day, told students that they were interested in anyone, regardless of degree. A quick glance at their careers page, however, shows that they are primarily interested in those with computer engineering skills, games and graphics designers and those from a business/ legal background.

In fact there were only a handful of companies and organisations catering for a Humanities student. These were mainly voluntary groups such as Focus Ireland and organisations sending one to teach English in far-flung destinations. Thanks to renewed emigration, the USIT stand was getting lots of attention. Another option for a humanities students- albeit the steel-nerved- were the Defence Forces and CTC Aviation Group, which provide commercial airline pilot training.

So, if like me, you don’t have the volunteer spirit, are too short for the army, and get nervous at 30, 000 feet, what are your career options?

According to UL, at least, very limited. It’s either do a post-grad or emigrate. It’s easy to bash the careers office for this lack of options, but it’s not entirely their fault. After all, the employers decide to send reps to the career fair; clearly the employers for humanities graduates aren’t there. I would love to know if any media companies, publishing houses, museum organisations or planning groups were invited to the Fair. They mustn’t be looking for graduates, in any case.

Our government is constantly telling us that we need to build a “knowledge-based economy going forward” (I won’t comment on the irony of preventing people obtaining this knowledge through planned extortionate fees). Knowledge based means little or no manufacturing, which has largely gone to Eastern Europe and the Far East anyway. It means science, technology, engineering and computing. It means pharmaceuticals and Google. It does not mean government funding for teaching and lecturing, theatre, music and social work. It means that if and when Ireland gets back on its feet that people with Arts degrees will be making the tea.

Humanities students in UL know all this already. When we discussed our class hoodies, we fourth-year Arts students considered putting “do you want fries with that?” as our class slogan. The class is split evenly between emigration and post-graduate study. Of course, the thing about an Arts degree is that it is practically worthless on its own; some further study must be done. It doesn’t help our collective self-esteem to realise how little the college seems to think of us.

The proposed 40% budget cut will hit Humanities students hard. Tutorials are already down to one a week in one of my sociology modules due to financial constraints and I can only imagine what the situation will be like for next year’s first years. Yet there is a new graduate medical building currently under construction. Again, a knowledge economy is being prioritised.

Maybe I’m being silly. After all, the government are right to push science as a way to better our economy. Ireland needs a unique way to pull in investors at the moment, and why not science and technology? Why waste money on fripperies like the Cork Opera House and the Abbey Theatre? Literature has never cured cancer. In an ideal world, there would be room for funding for all disciplines but it’s starkly obvious that we don’t live in an ideal world. I’m beginning to wish I’d paid a little more attention in Junior Cert Science.

It was my last ever UL Careers Fair- I’ll miss the free pens.

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