Skills in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

The RSE has responded to the British Academy (BA) project that is considering the skills inherent to the study of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS). While the RSE recognises the importance of being able to demonstrate the economic value of the AHSS, the Society recommends that the BA adopt a holistic approach that makes clear the broader societal contributions made by the AHSS. This would include the way in which the AHSS interface with other discipline areas and the impact of the AHSS to health and wellbeing.

The AHSS span a very wide range of disciplines – from medieval history to econometrics; architecture to accountancy; and archaeology – each with their unique characteristics. The BA project will need to position itself so that it is able to identify and articulate common core skills which are shared among the AHSS disciplines as well as being able to reflect the complexity of individual disciplines.

While there is a tendency to think of STEM and the AHSS as providing very different skills to one another, there is in fact a great deal of alignment between the skills and attributes expected of STEM and AHSS graduates. It is rather a matter of emphasis than mutual exclusiveness. Innovation is as much a part of AHSS as it is STEM. Whereas STEM subjects will be at the centre of technological developments that replace and/or reshape many existing roles in society, AHSS will be crucial to considering the impact of change from a wide-range of perspectives, including social, economic, ethical and legal. The AHSS are essential to understanding and supporting processes of change.

Interdisciplinary working is becoming increasingly important, particularly in the context of the need to address complex, multi-faceted global challenges. While it is clear that the AHSS are contributing to research that is seeking to address some of the most pressing issues facing the world, the BA could explore the extent to which university department structures and the lack of established co-authoring practice in some disciplines act as a barrier to collaboration and interdisciplinary working.

To gauge the contribution that those with AHSS skills make to society and the economy it will be necessary to consider the career paths of AHSS graduates over a sufficiently long timeframe. Reliance on data about graduates’ first main employment is not a sound basis for evaluating the impact made by AHSS graduates.

The full response is available here.