Ed’s letter

June 2014


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Don’t forget the arts

Budget Day is a time I dread and look forward to in equal measures. It is usually a game of trying to spot which areas have missed out amid the announcements of all the ‘winners’.

Tertiary education was, moreover, a winner in Budget 2014. Especially for those with a vested interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects. Of the $198.6 million of operating funding for new investment in tertiary education, most will be spent on increasing tuition subsidies in science, agriculture, pharmacy, and physiotherapy.

A recent report emerging from Education Counts on employment earnings supports this big push for science. It confirms what many of us know or suspect: that graduates from the humanities subjects typically earn a lot less than their science counterparts.

Due to a lack of interest and ability, a career in a science or mathematics related field was ruled out from an early age. Regardless of earnings potential or tuition subsidies, there is no way I would have chosen a different course of study.

There will be many, many students around

New Zealand who, like me, are wired with more of a bent for the arts. I only hope they are not starting to doubt themselves as they make their decisions about what course of study to follow.

I wonder about the trickle-down effect of Minister Joyce’s STEM push. Are parents in living rooms and career advisors in secondary schools around the country nudging students towards the sciences on the promise of better prospects?

It must be happening in some guise because universities are reporting a shift in enrolments from arts to STEM disciplines.

While I agree it is sensible to consider which way the employment supply-demand seesaw is tilted, part of me feels sad that the arts and humanities are being cast as a poor relation to the sciences.

Perhaps a BA might not lead you to the level of salary you would earn if you studied medicine – or perhaps it might – but either way, it seems we need to get past this short-term focus and look to the greater value that the arts play in society.

Jude Barback, Editor



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