• Amelia Oxlade

Should the government prefer fact over opinion?: STEM subjects VS non-STEM subjects


As Britain leaves the European Union and the Home Secretary conjures up a new Immigration Policy, the question of whether a STEM subject is more important than a Humanities subject arises. A STEM subject is a subject that fits into either Science, Technology, Engineering or maths or an associated school. Many people value a STEM subject over a non-STEM subject, normally referred to as a Humanities subject. This is reinforced by the proposed Immigration Point system, where a PhD in a STEM subject is double the worth of a PhD in another subject. This policy has caused some backlash, as it reinforces the idea that a non-STEM subject is not as valuable as a STEM subject, however, surely any PhD is just as valuable as the next? Taking away the PhD, there can be questions of whether studying a Humanities subject is a waste of time rather than studying a STEM subject. The study of any PhD is draining and difficult, why is one subject valued more highly than the next?



Humanities subjects can reveal a lot about the world, and many say that a Humanities subject is just as valuable than a STEM subject. They can offer critical thinking, a viewpoint into a new culture, thinking, analysing, criticising. All of these skills are becoming vital in the workplace, with employers seeking employees who can write well and critically thinking; both skills that are taught practised and tested on in a Humanities school. And while a STEM subject may also teach these, there is the opportunity to understand moral issues and the intricacies and complexity of the human world. Humanities are increasingly valuable in the modern world, where humanity is becoming even more complex than ever before. Critical thinking is a skill that is vital in the workplace, a complex analysis of an issue that helps to form arguments. While this may be a skill traditionally associated with law or perhaps politics, argument strengthening is a skill that can be used everywhere; from business management to marketing. Logic is needed to follow an argument to a conclusion, based upon evidence and the analysis and evaluation of arguments can solve problems and means that the individual can strengthen their own argument. This is a skill that is often shoved to one side, in a STEM subject where facts, figures and data analysis presides over argument formation. While to some careers, Pythagoras’ theorem, pi and the quadratic formula is essential to the everyday job, this is often a small (in comparison) selection of jobs where this is required day in, day out. In contrast, critical thinking, empathy for different cultures and analysis of arguments is useful for a wide breadth of jobs; from research proposals to funding requests.


Whether a person has a language brain or not, the study of languages is fundamental to our ever-changing multi-cultural world, which is happening as a result through advancements in technology and WiFi, as the world is more interconnected than ever before, through globalisation. While it is often thought that in a language class you learn about the conjugations of verbs, adjectives and nouns, there is an underlying advantage to studying Spanish, Italian, Russian. The website Lead With Languages highlights 10 benefits of learning a second language - such as boosting confidence, strengthening decision making and advancing your career, to name a few. Becoming tolerant and understanding of different cultures can bring awareness to cultural issues and lead to a better-connected world than ever before. A second language can not only help with international needs that a company may have with clients but can also help companies to bridge gaps with international teams. Learning a second language, whether this is an academic pursuit or a hobby in later life teaches one to be more understanding of different cultures which are becoming increasingly prevalent in business.


Another Humanities subject that often has a misconstrued understanding of the importance of is Philosophy and Theology. These two subjects - which can be studied alone, but is also commonly joined together - complement each other, and most importantly, are extremely important to our understanding of the world around us. By definition, philosophy is the ‘study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence’ and there are many links to science. Philosophy of science is a separate sub-field of philosophy, concerned with the implications, foundations and methods of science; and so it could be argued that philosophy is just as much of a STEM subject than Physics or Biology. However, more convincingly, Philosophy of Science is only one minor section of Philosophy, and there are many more other non-STEM sections, such as epistemology (which arguably has elements of science within it), aesthetics, moral philosophy and philosophy of language. Being defined by the study of ‘reality and existence’, there is no doubt that this is both a thought-provoking and important subject to, at least, come across. One sub-section, in particular, that is, although perhaps subjectively, equally important as STEM subjects is moral philosophy. The study of how our law system is founded upon, the study of how humanity makes decisions and the study of important issues and debates that happen in everyday life (abortion, euthanasia etc), it becomes clear that moral philosophy is fundamental to our existence. By learning about different ethical decision-making theories, you can learn about how morality has changed over time, as different scholars have different opinions. Often, through the study of ethical philosophy, there are analytical skills built from questioning whether or not certain actions are moral or not - while many use the Bible as a referencing point, Bishop John Robinson states that “there is no one ethical system that can claim to be Christian.” By using the skills of analysis and critical thinking, moral philosophy becomes important to learn, even if to gain an understanding of why different people make different decisions.


Theology plays a similar part in human life. Over 75% of our world identify as religious. Whether that identification is as a Buddhist, Christian or Hindu, it quickly becomes clear that if everyone became more understanding of different religions then our world may become a more harmonious, forgiving and empathetic world. Often, once many people identify as non-religious, whether this is atheist (someone who has complete disbelief in the existence of God or gods) or agnostic (someone who believes that nothing is known or can be known about the existence of God), there is no further exploration of faith. However, as previously stated, over 75% of humanity identify as religious, showing that most people question their nature of reality - similar to the study of Philosophy. There have been claims that Theology and Religion search for similar answers than that of Science; furthermore, science can prove or disprove religious theories. For example, in arguments for God’s existence, the Big Bang Theory and theories of evolution can disprove Christian theologian’s ideas, from existence is a predicate of God to Paley’s design argument. However, in a world where many believe that there is no hope, belief in the supernatural, which can offer guidance, hope and reconciliation should not be knocked. This is not an attempt to convert you to faith; but it quickly becomes clear how the study of why faith is so important to humanity, along with why different religions come about, and the study of the effects of religion are all so important and should be valued as equally as STEM subjects. While Theology and Religion do not offer a subject full of fact, a world full of pure fact, strips humanity of opinion and ultimately, what makes humans different from the animal kingdom, emotion.


Finally, STEM subjects tend to offer more direct graduate prospects; medicine leads to medical careers, accountancy leads to accountant careers and many more. Non-STEM subjects tend to mean that the graduate prospects are not as defined, although, of course there are expectations. For example, while a law degree might lead to being a solicitor, other degrees such as philosophy, modern languages and history, are a lot more open-ended. Of course, there are stereotypical graduate choices, such as a museum curator for history, working in think tanks for philosophy and translators for modern languages, however, there is definitely a wider variety of jobs for non-STEM subjects. When leaving for university, students often find that they are ascribed the career of teaching, which can be a popular choice, however, there is a wide range of graduate careers that can be picked instead.


So in conclusion, a PhD in a non-STEM subject is just valuable as one in a STEM subject. PhD’s require a lot of time, effort and money, and the proposition that one is worth more, simply because it grapples with factual and quantifiable data, is obscene. Non-STEM subjects can work with quality skills, such as writing extraordinary essays, critical thinking and can promote tolerance, in a world where diversity is ever-growing.



References:


Lead with Languages

https://www.leadwithlanguages.org/why-learn-languages/top-ten-reasons-to-learn-languages/#:~:text=The%20many%20cognitive%20benefits%20of,multitask%2C%20and%20better%20listening%20skills.

Google search, How many people are religious?

https://www.google.com/search?safe=strict&rlz=1C1CHBF_en-GBGB785GB785&sxsrf=ALeKk02aoo1-h_AM7LAXXhEGKW0XjypD6g:1593799480867&q=Dictionary&stick=H4sIAAAAAAAAAONQesSoyi3w8sc9YSmZSWtOXmMU4-LzL0jNc8lMLsnMz0ssqrRiUWJKzeNZxMqFEAMA7_QXqzcAAAA&zx=1593799547087#dobs=philosophy

Bishop John Robinson, Honest to God (1963)


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