Thabiso Goba
3 minute read
28 Jul 2022
06:41

Opinion | What would the world be like without Humanities studies?

Thabiso Goba

There are many researchers in humanities doing important work on understanding the socioeconomic intricacies of the country.

Thabiso Goba, News reporter.

There is no guarantee that scrapping Humanities from the university curriculum would improve youth unemployment but it would make society infinitely worse.

When the issue of graduate unemployment comes up, the faculty of Humanities always receives some stick.

Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, has repeatedly railed against humanities and in particular social sciences, even going as far as suggesting that the government should cease funding these courses.

Nzimande’s argument is that students should study courses where there is a shortage of skills, like in the Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sector.

Nzimande does have a point — a qualification in Stem is about as close to a job guarantee as any graduates can get. However, for a multitude of reasons, including systematic and institutional ones, not everyone can study Stem.

Some students don’t have the required science and mathematics aptitude, this could be caused by the level of education they received or just the simple fact that we are all unique.

The supposed high rate of unemployment within humanities graduates cannot be divorced from the wider systemic failures in South Africa.

In my first-year class as a journalism student at the Durban University of Technology there was a printed blog post stuck on the wall where the author imagines a world without creative courses through the eyes of an engineer.

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Every day the engineer wears beige pants and shirts because fashion designers don’t exist.

When the engineer gets home, he turns on the radio and television and all that is playing are government announcements because drama and singers don’t exist.

The engineer takes his girlfriend to a fancy restaurant where he is served pap and bland meat because there are no culinary schools.

When the engineer goes down to propose to his girlfriend, he does not have a ring because there are no jewellery design artists.

Through this hyperbole the author’s intention was to affirm to us as students that what we do, matters, especially in a world that is continuously going to tell us it doesn’t.

In the academic field, there are many researchers within the humanities field doing important work on understanding the socioeconomic intricacies of this country and how we could solve them.

For example, the recent study from the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Sociological Research and Practice which found that black working-class communities in SA are disproportionately more affected by load shedding than suburban areas.

This is something many people in these communities suspected but did not have the advantage of scholarship to back up their claims.

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While the implications of the above study may not have been properly considered by the time of publication of this column, they do, however, shatter the misconception that we are a meritocratic country.

People are not poor because they do not work hard enough, they are poor because they do not have (or are systematically denied) access to opportunities.

And unless we understand this, through research, all solutions to improve this country will be akin to a cosmetic exercise of fixing the face while ignoring the soul.

The space available for this column is adequate for me to list other important research work happening in the social science field, and even if it were, that is not my point.

My point is that a society where people do not have a plurality of interests is not ideal. When magazines shut down and newspaper circulation falls, that’s not a sign of a population not wanting to read but a decline in disposable income.

• Thabiso Goba is a senior journalist at The Witness.