With their differing backgrounds, it was perhaps no surprise that the four disagreed on the core problem of the issue. Ingrid Stage stated that half of the graduates from humanities and social sciences have gained employment in private companies since 2002; so perhaps we don’t face the problems we think we do? Sara Gade Hansen, however, elaborated that while said students are getting better at becoming employed in the private sector, many of these studies are employed in positions in which their qualifications are unused.
Morten Løkkegaard opened up by emphasising that education is secondary, a hard pill to swallow when you spend five years or more specialising in something and building a specific set of skills. He elaborated by explaining that what most companies are interested in is the bundle they are investing in; the DNA of the individual is very important, certainly much more so that what school you attended and the grades you received. He considers the problem as being two-fold, in that it stems just as much from the students as it does the businesses. The first part of his opening statement was soon challenged by students who found it incredible that DNA should be more important than working hard. After all, one can only affect the latter. Should we not be in charge of our own potential? Replying to this, Løkkegaard explained that it’s not purely a DNA-related issue; it’s how you use your DNA which matters. Of course hard work matters, but companies hire a person not a skill and therefore the entire package needs to be a match. Nor does this mean that any degree can be used freely; but within the fields of humanities and social sciences, the boundaries are blurry. He moreover suggested rethinking the way we brand ourselves; we should forget the obsession with labels. Companies hire people not labels! Don’t present yourself as an education with a name tag. Present yourself as an individual with specific competencies that may be derived from your education.
Sverre Raffnsøe elaborated on this, stating that companies are made up of all kinds of people with differing sets of skills. He emphasised the need for skills along with talent, however, according to him, skills can be applied in all sorts of strange ways.
One concern raised from the audience was the unwillingness of private companies to take risks on students of the aforementioned disciplines during this time of crisis. Sara Gade Hansen responded that the individual needs to take responsibility for his or her own qualifications and if we perceive our skills as lacking we need to do something to further them, e.g. an internship.
Sara Gade Hansen was good at providing a reality check, and during the debate she pointed to the problem found in the increasing number of people applying to study the humanities and social sciences. The education offered and the potential jobs available have to match up if people expect to be employed within their field of study.
With all this talk of ‘the real world’ and interchangeability of educations, it may not be surprising that a concern was voiced on the need for higher education to begin with. How can the educational emphasis on theory be relevant for a life of practical application? In response to this, there was a general agreement amongst the panelists that the skills nurtured and developed during years of higher education are important for further development. However, if you as a student are unsatisfied with something don’t be afraid of addressing the issue. Moreover, universities need to become better at formulating how students can make use of the acquired skills in private companies.
While the panelists disagreed on the details of various issues, they furthermore agreed that the blame game must stop! Regardless of whether you represent students, business, or academia, if you feel that something is wrong, you have a responsibility to address it! No one is going to change life magically for students of the humanities and social sciences. Use your time at university to explore, join a network and hone your skills. If you want someone to hire you, you need to be clear about what you’re selling.
With their differing backgrounds, the panelists had much to contribute and much to discuss. Alan Irwin did a good job of allowing the audience to participate and allowing students to ask questions and voice concerns.