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An arts degree isn’t a waste of time. But neither is an apprenticeship

28 February 2014

4:42 PM

28 February 2014

4:42 PM

A friend and I joke that there are two types of jobs: fun ones, and school fees ones. We (penurious journalists) say this to our friends (pecunious lawyers, bankers, consultants), and find immense comfort in it.

Perhaps I should have sacked off my History of Art degree, and done something vocational – ergo ‘worthwhile’ as Katie Hopkins will no doubt argue at the Spectator’s debate on Tuesday, ‘An arts degree is a waste of time and money’. I’d be raking it in by now. But then I apply the intellectual faculties developed while studying my degree, and realise that this is, of course, poppycock. After all, most of my friends who are now raking it in as lawyers, bankers and consultants didn’t study these subjects at university. They studied History, Philosophy, Classics. They’ve done well because of their liberal arts degrees, not in spite of them. Studying a course at university that sounds exactly like the job title you’ll have for the next 40 years seriously misses the point of university.

In reality, there is no such thing as a ‘non-vocational’ degree – all degrees are vocational in one way or another, even liberal arts degrees. But in the wake of Blair’s dictum that 50% of people should go onto higher education, we’ve lost sight of how important other avenues can be. At my old school, almost everyone was expected to go onto university; you were a peculiar fish if you didn’t. This is counterproductive – we must encourage young people to be open-minded about what might suit them best: a university degree, a vocational course, an apprenticeship. We shouldn’t be snooty about it though – a university degree doesn’t suit everyone, and doesn’t suit every career choice. But let’s not use the mistakes of the past few decades as a stick to bash the arts with. A liberal arts degree is still important – more so when it’s offered up alongside a range of other options.

The next Spectator debate: ‘An arts degree is a waste of time and money.’ Katie Hopkins, Will Self, Anthony Seldon and Julia Hobsbawm will go head-to-head on 4 March. Click here to book tickets.

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