The Higher Education sector in the UK is about to change enormously. Put this another way, it is about to be hit by funding cuts so dramatic it will not be possible for most (if not all) universities to remain solvent just by trimming and economising. Major changes are going to be required in the way universities are run and in the services they deliver. This against a backdrop of questions about what a university is for.
Increasingly we see that politicians use the rhetoric of skills and work rather than intellect and education. This debate, whilst interesting to some, is in my view largely irrelevant since the argument is over – given that the politicians still oversee a large amount of the funding for HE, this view is the way the sector will go. Essentially University is now seen to be the transition between school and work so we in the sector need to change our outlook accordingly.
For the social sciences, there are opportunities and threats possibly in equal measure. The opportunity is in the workplace relevant skills that social science education can provide. Essential skills such as critical thinking, presentation of logical, well structured, well evidenced arguments, coping with ambiguous evidence – as well as the life enhancing knowledge about our world. But the threat is more easy to find – stories of the mickey mouse degree topic are an easy target for journalists and traditionalists and are frequently wheeled out as a stick to beat HE in general and social science in particular. I for one have never understood why the study of greek mythology is a high order cerebral activity but the study of the very real society we are in today is not. But making this argument in the world outside social sciences is the to set oneself up for a drubbing – it is the journalistic equivalent of an open goal.
We in the social sciences need to up our game in making the case for the value of our subjects. But in a way which is relevant to the milieu we find ourselves in, not the one we would like to be in. In my view, this means emphasising rigour and relevance of social sciences, cutting out anything that could be interpreted (or twisted) as being woolly or the study of the obvious. But most of all, delivering excellent service to our students by stimulating them, being responsive and first firing their imagination then keeping their attention.
Dr Patrick Tissington
Associate Dean Business Partnerships
Aston Business School
Birmingham B4 7ET