In the immediate aftermath of 12 years at school, the question constantly asked is: "So what are you doing this year?'" My reply is that I am doing Arts/Law at UQ. Those who reply solely with: "Arts'', almost invariably sound resigned, even apologetic, as they utter the name. Some even feel the need to say "Just Arts'".
No one would say: "Just Law"' or "Just Engineering"'. Even Science students, undertaking a degree just as broad as Arts, never downgrade their degree.
Yet even the Law component of my studies doesn't save me from disapproval. A former boss look baffled when she asked me: "Why, if you got into Law, would you bother with Arts?"'
My answer was that I thought the subjects would be interesting.
But with rising university fees, more and more people think that "interesting"' just isn't enough. These days it seems everyone is panicked by the thought: "Where is this getting me?'"
With Gough Whitlam's free university long gone, uni in 2007 is not about becoming educated, but becoming "equipped for the workforce'".
A BA is seen as an indulgence for those "kidding themselves'' that liberal arts could possibly be useful. And the more voices trumpeting this, the more likely it is that employers will dismiss a BA as a bogus credential.
The Catch-22 is a vicious one.
So how did Arts get stuck with such an appalling reputation?
Clearly, cut-offs for university entrance have nothing to do with it.
Engineering, which has retained its image of being challenging and rewarding, is only a few OP points above Arts at most universities.
One of the big reasons for Arts' declining reputation is its image as a procrastination degree. It's true that many students take a year of Arts while unsure of what they want from uni in the future.
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