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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Milena Stanoeva
Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

What is the value of an arts degree? This seems to be the central question of this week’s news round-up.

The importance of the humanities and the skills afforded to students through a humanities education were particularly salient topics. In one case, it was argued that it helps students develop empathy, something that can be lacking in the “me generation.” “Humanists are specialists in an activity upon which all other disciplines depend, indeed, upon which we daily depend in everything we do: the making and assessment of meaning,” argued another recent column.

Universities are also recognizing the need to promote the values of a degree in the humanities: Stanford University welcomed it’s freshmen with a program designed to spark their interests in humanities disciplines, like literature and philosophy.

Canadian universities also seem eager to reinvigorate the learning experience. University of Toronto’s Victoria College is launching six free courses with no formal evaluation structures. Members of the public facing hardships like poverty and disability are also invited to join in the discussion. Queen’s University also wants to engage students–it is exploring a “blended learning initiative,” which combines class-time with online learning to introduce more active discussion in large lectures.

Meanwhile, Maclean’s On Campus reported on the decline in registrations for B.A. programs, noting that a large number of students are opting for degrees in business instead. However, what is interesting here is the “decline” is actually only 0.3% and David Peddle, Head of Arts at Memorial University, argues, “With an expectation to change jobs a number of times in one’s career, today’s student needs the flexibility and diversity that the liberal arts and sciences can bring.”

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UVIC has a similar initiative: Uni 101. Lots of adult learners enroll and take courses on campus. Some have matriculated into the traditional stream and others are attending classes through other programs after they have graduated from Uni 101.