Our University is failing its arts students

Student attends graduate fair job

Student attends graduate fair job

Sarah Walker

As I write this, it has been two days since the Careers Service hosted its Internship Fair, and I have had two days to reflect on – and to grow increasingly angry about – the event. As a fourth year student who can unfortunately no longer pretend that life post-graduation doesn’t exist, I turned up to the event hoping that, at the very least, I would be able to have some practical conversations about what comes next. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I’m positive that for many students who attended, the event was useful, illuminating and even an opportunity for some networking. But none of those students study within the College of Arts.

I am certain that almost every arts student who crossed the threshold of the fair would be able to empathise with my experience: the desperate search for a stall that didn’t have “banking” or “finance” on its poster; the exhibitors who winced when I told them my degree subject; and the slow, dawning realisation that there was nothing of any relevance to me there at all. Perhaps I am being unfair: after all, TEFL and Teach First had both been invited, because obviously if you study arts, you “must want to be a teacher, then.”

A brief glance at the Careers Service page on the University website can tell you as much. They proudly advertise their fairs for Banking, Finance and Consultancy, for Engineering and Technology, and for Science – the only other non-generalised event is a Charity and Volunteering Fair. The theme clearly continues throughout the year: while there is a plethora of career events catering for those studying STEM subjects, the arts are almost completely sidelined. The running joke is that arts students will graduate into almost certain unemployment, our degrees irrelevant in the fierce competition of the job market. Unfortunately, events such as the Internship Fair do precious little to challenge this rhetoric; instead, we are met with pitying smiles and choruses of “we’re not really looking for someone with your degree.”
The irony here is that many careers that arts graduates aspire to – marketing, publishing and journalism to name just a few – are notoriously difficult to break into. Glasgow University has proved that it can provide a top class careers service for those studying other disciplines, with industry placements, on campus recruitment events and a surfeit of career fairs. Why then, are arts students expected to go it alone? In most of these fields, it is absolutely crucial that relevant work experience is gained before making an application, yet when seeking advice, aside from workshops on ‘graduate attributes’, and a few empty comments about updating your LinkedIn and finding an (usually unpaid) internship, you are on your own.

However, my personal grievances aside, there is something very serious at stake here. With most universities planning to raise fees yet again, and the scrapping of maintenance grants, ideas of employability are at the very forefront of most prospective students’ minds. For many, choosing higher education means choosing debt, and delaying employment by at least several years. If this is how the employability of arts students is treated even within universities, we teeter on incredibly dangerous territory: who will choose to incur £40,000 of debt to gain a degree that is marketed as “useless”? Only those privileged enough to know with absolute certainty that they have the contacts and the financial means of succeeding in their chosen field.

While I admit that arts degrees are less vocational than say, an engineering degree, it is incredibly ignorant to suggest that they are less valuable. Firstly, I challenge anyone who believes arts degrees are easy to attend an honours literary theory class; secondly, and more seriously, I’d ask anyone who believes that the arts are inferior to imagine a world without them. It is easy to sneer at arts degrees while we live within the comfort of a world already enriched and coloured by the talents of historians, writers and musicians.

If things continue in this vein, we risk losing an awful lot. It is inconceivable that even within a university, these attitudes can be perpetuated – but that is what is happening. Glasgow University is doing its arts students a disservice in failing to adequately represent the range of possibilities and opportunities that are available post-graduation. At a discipline-wide careers event, it is unacceptable to exclude such a large proportion of students: a few token teaching or volunteering stalls simply isn’t enough. Glasgow University has a responsibility to its arts students – and it is letting us down.