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Criticising Humanities Today: - Framing Debates on the Value of Humanities in EU Higher Education Policy with a Special Focus on the Bologna Process -
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology. Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.
2014 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

The main research question that this paper aims to answer is: ‘In what does today’s attack on humanities consist and how can humanities be defended?’ In order to answer this research question, one needs first to describe how the humanities have argued for their usefulness before the Bologna Process; second, provide reasons for the claim that the Bologna Process would be a new type of attack; and third, analyse the new defences for the humanities, so as to discuss whether these are suitable.  

There are several arguments why employability should not be the main interpretation for ‘usefulness’ in education. Some authors argue that the focus on employability is a good excuse for European governments to give up on regulating the labour market, and instead transfer the responsibility on the citizens’ shoulders. If being employed is construed as having employable skills, then the state can only invest in training those skills and, after the education is over, if there are still unemployed people, it means it is their fault they were unemployable. A current debate concerns whether the labour market is too regulated or unregulated; this debate should benefit from taking into account the construction of ‘employability’ through the educational policies in the BP. Others have argued that by constructing the set of employable skills as a response to the demands of today’s labour market, this leaves the future employees incapable of meeting the changed demands in tomorrow’s labour market. Some argue that the labour market’s demands cannot be predicted in principle, and therefore people should construct their life around life-long learning, discarding old skills and gaining new ones as they age. However, this model is oblivious to the fact that a future of the labour market may be dominated by automation, as argued by Luciano Floridi. Employment in sectors of the economy that we today think of as important may not be where the jobs will be created tomorrow. What will it mean in the future for people to have a fulfilling and purposeful life when employment will be reduced to just a few hours a week? We need to remain open to the possibility that the good life of the future will not be the (self-)employed life, the active and mobile model proposed now by the EU. People will need to be active in other fields, not strictly related to bread-winning. Other capacities will need to be used in order to make use of one’s time, and these capacities are now dropped from education in order to construct the employable European citizen.    The Bologna ideal of education is more perishable than what first meets the eye. It is connected with a certain view of what it means to be employable, of what the future labour market’s needs will be, and its time dimension is quite narrow. In order to face the challenges of the future labour markets, as BP had claimed it prepares its students to do, one needs a wider understanding of what it means to have a good life. One way of defending the humanities is to claim that it is equivalent to defending a plurality of educational purposes, the right to build one’s life based on an education that is not submitted to the political goals of the day, ultimately the right to have a dissenting voice and a different perspective on life.

The main finding of this study was to show that, before deciding what type of education society needs, we need to understand who we are educating through our universities. Taking a stance on “who should we educate?” is prior to being able to judge educational policies. This decision requires a previous justification that requires arguments taken from the field of social justice: Who needs to be educated and who has the right to be educated? Furthermore, we have seen that all answers we have examined to the question underlying educational policies, i.e. ‘who is being educated?’, were linked at some level with the citizenship issue. By defining who is a full citizen, an answer to the question who had the right to a humanistic education was implicitly answered. Nussbaum’s project to universalise the definition of democratic citizenship would ensure a basis for providing humanistic education for all. Such a line of arguing would provide humanities to the well-regarded status they had starting from the Renaissance times, but this time not as a device for exclusion, but inclusion for all. We have tried to show that, by defending the humanities, one defends the idea of a plurality of educational purposes, the right to build one’s life based on an education that is not submitted to the political goals of the day, ultimately the right to have a dissenting voice and a different perspective on life. By defending humanities, one defends the true ‘usefulness’ of education, namely its potential for constructing democratic citizenship for all.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. , 111 p.
Keyword [en]
Bologna Process, European Higher Education Area, Humanities, Crisis, Education, citizenship, usefulness, employability
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-232193OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-232193DiVA: diva2:746912
Subject / course
Educational program
Master Programme in Euroculture
Available from: 2014-09-17 Created: 2014-09-15 Last updated: 2014-09-17Bibliographically approved

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