A Degree of Uncertainty

My dad still wants me to become an accountant, but I can’t count. In seeking the answer to one of the big questions in life – is my Arts degree worth it? – I went to the ‘Arts in the Real World’ held by Monash during July. Upon hearing of this event Dad laughed, “it’s funny, the name; Arts in the “Real World.” Probing him I inquired “Why?” to which he responded, “because, well, is there really such thing as Arts in the real world?”

So an arts degree is a waste of time, right? Monash held the event because, sadly, that is the overwhelming sentiment held in our society. While most Arts students tend to enjoy studying their discipline, many fear that they won’t find a decent career after 3 years of arduous study and paying back $20,000 that they don’t actually have. Students of Law, Commerce, Engineering – pretty much any discipline other than Arts – laugh scornfully at the supposedly imminent demise of the Arts graduate.

In response to this trend, Monash designed the conference to remind students that the world could not function solely with accountants, doctors, lawyers, bankers, computer technicians, and so forth. People tend to forget not only that the Arts are important, but also that we actually need the humanities disciplines in our society. It should seem obvious, really; humans need the study of humanity in order to progress as a community.

Jan McGuinness a journalist, editor and news producer, as well as a professor at Monash’s school of Media, Film and Journalism, reminded students that we live in “a changing and ambiguous world” where we need to continue to make connections between humanities and contemporary issues.

As an Arts graduate and the vice-president of the organisation Humanities 21 (, Jan advocates for people to “stop apologising for their Arts degrees”. Humanities 21 aims to educate the corporate world about Arts graduates and seeks to build bridges between them and newly graduated Arts students. The not-for-profit organisation boasts a database of 150 academics, hosts events, exhibitions, seminars, and posts e-newsletters, to project to students, academics, and businesses what’s going on in the world of the humanities. Their underlying idea is that, “if businesses are on board, jobs will follow”.

Professor Rae Frances, the Dean of Arts at Monash, is also passionate about the Arts because people need to “understand what it means to be human in its many dimensions”. She highlights the necessity of understanding why humans “think and act the way they do; how they express themselves intellectually, artistically and socially; how they interact with each other and with technology and the natural environment.”

We tend to forget that an education an Arts field teaches students to be analytical and flexible, which is so important because “almost every problem has a human dimension as well as a technical one,” Professor Frances explains.

An Arts degree offers breadth by delivering training in many skills including research, analysis, critical thinking and ultimately communication, which, according to the Dean, are “extremely useful in the modern workplace and highly valued by employers.”

Refreshingly, she envisions that the Bachelor of Arts qualification will become more popular in the near future. The generic and broad skills that the BA teaches are becoming increasingly sought-after because the nature of work is changing so quickly, so adapting to new situations and workplaces is vital in order to apply knowledge in ever-changing contexts. It is exactly because the BA is such a broad degree that students can seek broad vocational experience. Rather than restricting you to one domain of work, an Arts education will widen your “Real World” prospects.

As globalisation will continue to steadily advance thanks to the increasing rates of digitalisation, tourism and migration, students will need to adapt to participate in a global workforce in order to attain the best possible job prospects. The BA fills the gap of international experience and intercultural skills that is often lost in more vocational-focused disciplines.

So what should you do if, like me, you can’t count, fathom the idea of chemistry, or fall asleep at the idea of studying torts? Professor Frances encourages students to take advantage of Monash’s offerings of international study experience. Likewise, being such a large university, the networking opportunities at Monash are boundless. Whether you study another language, criminology, politics, literature, or behavioral studies within your Arts degree, “accessing another culture and world view”, as Professor Frances puts it, will ultimately open your eyes to the world beyond university, and expand your version of the real world.

In the meantime, at least my dad will continue to teach me all he knows about Excel spreadsheets.




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