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How important are traditional subjects?

Clare Hyde looks at whether ‘hard’ subjects are really worth more than ‘soft’ ones.

Following rumours of an Oxbridge blacklist, it’s no secret that less traditional subjects such as media studies are sometimes considered to be worth less when  compared to ‘hard’ subjects like history or the sciences.
A lot of media attention has also been dedicated to the fact that in recent years, more students are choosing to study more modern and contemporary subjects: students studying psychology and sport have rise dramatically since the 1990s, while numbers studying languages have fallen.
The introduction of the new diploma in 2008 also encouraged practical and vocational courses, such as health and media; vastly different to the academic subjects favoured by universities.

Should students really be encourages to take traditional subjects?

Many critics claim that vocational subjects are supposedly easier, which is why they are favoured by both students and schools, as they lend themselves to higher grades and subsequently higher rankings on league tables. However, some students naturally favour humanities over the sciences and vice versa, so it’s not that hard to believe that a student who is naturally able at certain subjects might struggle with more traditional courses. If students naturally favour vocational courses, isn’t it best to enable them to pursue their interests and strengths? Forcing students into taking subjects that are likely to result in a low grade could result in these students rejecting education altogether due to lack of motivation and enthusiasm. Vocational subjects may also be the only option for students who are not academically able, but who wish to continue their education.

How do these subjects fare in the future?

Although academics claim that students will gain more from traditional subjects in the long term, employment trends sometimes speak differently.
According to The Independent newspaper, on average only one third of students who study English literature – a traditional ‘hard’ subject -  at university begin their career in non-graduate level jobs, with only 26% entering the workforce in a degree level job. History degrees also show a similar trend, with only 23% of students obtaining graduate-level jobs directly after leaving university.In contrast, travel and tourism courses lead to around 40% of students entering straight into graduate-level jobs. These figures are taken even without the considering the fact that Oxbridge and Russell Group universities (which tend to avoid unconventional degree courses) are more likely to lead to higher employment rates in their graduates.

Overall, there does seem to be value in taking subjects that are less academic, even if it requires giving up a place at Oxbridge. In fact, employment rates suggest that certain courses such as business management are becoming increasingly relevant, while subjects such as philosophy might appear outdated. While universities can choose to values these vocational subjects less, you probably won’t find that your course has no use or value in today’s society if you decide that this is the path for you.

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