Two graphs that prove Arts degrees aren't a waste of time

This data shows it's not all doom and gloom for Arts graduates.

Arts degrees have been labelled ‘useless’ and a ‘waste of time’, so are they any benefit at all to graduates?

This question isn’t new; it’s been plaguing the higher education sector for decades. But recent changes to the fees and HECS student debt arrangements have rekindled the debate. Here are some flashpoints from the latest round of coverage of the issue:

As you skim through the articles, you may notice that missing from this debate are some raw facts and figures on what happens to Australian Arts students after they graduate. If Arts degrees are indeed a waste of time -- and as the IPA contends, a waste of taxpayers’ money -- one can only assume that students with this qualification are disadvantaged in the workforce.

Data from Graduates Australia seems to indicate otherwise. The study, published last month, examined graduates three years after they attained their degree. Here are a couple of myths that it disproves:

1.    Arts degrees don’t lead to jobs

So, who's employing these graduates? The study didn’t go into specifics, but it found that these four industries employed the majority (76.9 per cent) of the graduates surveyed for this study.

  • Public administration and safety
  • Professional, scientific and technical services
  • Education and training
  • Arts and recreation

Also, despite the belief that Arts degrees are only a platform for postgraduate study, only 23.3 per cent of those surveyed said they were undertaking further study four months after attaining their degree. Even less (14.2 per cent) said they were undertaking extra study when asked again three years later.

2.    Arts graduates earn less than other graduates

It is worth pointing out that Arts degrees aren’t the front running qualification in either category, although that's isn’t surprising given the sheer number of Arts graduates in Australia. The study also confirms what we already know: a business degree will lead to better outcomes.

But, on this data, you can’t claim that Arts is a pointless qualification. Putting aside all the rhetoric that Arts teaches critical thinking, to say this would also imply that offering degrees in other studies that ranked below Arts, like creative arts and agricultural studies are also useless to Australian society. But that’s a whole other argument. 

Got a question? Let us know in the comments below or contact the reporter (and bachelor of journalism graduate) @HarrisonPolites on Twitter.

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