Federation University’s decision to drop the arts program is drawing criticism from critical thinkers

Written by Javed Iqbal

Cutting access to humanities degrees will reduce critical thinking among the population and put regional students at a disadvantage, academics have warned, as Federation University prepares to scrap its Bachelor of Arts (BA) program from 2023.

Making the decision less than two years after the previous federal government doubled fees for humanities degrees, the university blamed the cut on falling enrollments from international and domestic students.

“Student starts have fallen from 87 in 2018 to just 27 in 2022,” Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Wendy Cross said.

“The federation will continue to offer many of the courses that were part of the BA program … and we will reallocate staff where possible.”

A photo of Federation University's Ballarat campus.
Federation operates two main campuses, in Churchill and Ballarat, as well as other smaller locations.(Provided by: Federation University)

A ‘short-sighted’ move

The move was branded “short-sighted” by Ballarat-based professional historian Lucy Bracey.

“Cutting off access to this doesn’t just limit future students – it hurts regional students in particular,” Ms Bracey said.

A woman in glasses smiles at the camera
Professional historian Lucy Bracey believes that the promotion of critical thinking is at risk.(Delivered)

She said a degree in the humanities taught young people critical thinking skills.

“You learn to evaluate sources, to learn to do research,” Ms. Bracey said.

“You learn to look at what you read, [and] think about who created the source [and] why it was created.

“Critical thinking allows you to not just accept what you read in the newspaper or tell on TV.”

Job-ready candidates to be notified

That previous federal government decided in 2020 to dramatically increase fees for humanities degrees under its Job-ready Graduates package, which simultaneously reduced the cost of science, engineering, nursing, health, education and mathematics.

A spokesman for the federal Department of Education said a “review” of the program would begin in the second half of this year.

“The Government will appoint prominent Australians to implement a Universities Agreement who will work with universities to consider things like affordability and accessibility,” the spokesman said.

Student in the library
The package of job-ready candidates will be reviewed this year.(Pexels.com)

Art part of the ‘ecosystem’

Queensland University of Technology Professor Sandra Gattenhof was the lead researcher for the Australian Research Council Liaison Project, The Role of the Creative Arts in Regional Australia: a Social Impact Model.

“From our research, it shows that any kind of arts engagement, whether it’s the small craft groups, to large events, to things like courses at a regional university … they’re all part of an ecosystem,” Professor Gattenhof said.

“And the moment you take a piece of the ecosystem out, that means … the connections that are within that community start to fragment.”

She said the arts and humanities played a vital role in regional areas to create greater social inclusion.

“Often when we talk about regional society, we often talk about statistics – regional trade and tourism statistics,” Professor Gattenhof said.

“But we forget that art, culture and creativity are in themselves an indicator of well-being.

“If you have that in your community, your community is what we call ‘thriving’.”

College students walk through campus, some looking at their phones.  The image is blurred, making faces unidentifiable.
Federation University has blamed low enrollments for ending its Bachelor of Arts program.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)

A disappointing anniversary

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Victoria’s Education Act, which made education free, secular and compulsory for young students.

Ms Bracey said it was disappointing to see a reduction in student opportunities in 2022.

“There’s a current mindset in society, which is that if you’re not doing something that has an immediate job outcome at the end of it… it’s not worth doing,” she said.

“And there are so many things wrong with it.

“There are over 500 professional historians working across Australia, all of whom have an arts degree.”

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Javed Iqbal

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