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Humanities named, shamed with bogus jobless data

Humanities bashing — At the Faculty of Humanities they are tired of being pilloried as unemployed academics who do not contribute to society. They say their unemployment numbers are not too high – and maybe they have a point. They have found mistakes in the Ministry's numbers.

“Should we feed humanities graduates to the pigs?”

“Useless humanities graduates lining up on the unemployment queue”

“Just graduated humanities students can’t get relevant jobs”.

Negative headlines about humanities graduates with language, art, history and culture degrees are all over the media.

This can be seen in particular in connection with the student admission period at universities, and this year there was no exception: On 7th June, less than a month before the quota 1 application deadline – the Ministry of Education issued a memorandum naming the top 15 higher education programmes for unemployment among newly graduated students.

Egyptology  took first place with a graduate redundancy rate of 48 per cent, followed by Assyriology with 46 per cent. Number five was  Near-Eastern Archaeology with 43 per cent – all three of them are humanities programmes at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH).

This led to news headlines like “Half of the new graduates of Egyptology are unemployed”.

Small subjects: The numbers don’t add up

The media coverage seems to have had an effect. Humanities programmes at UCPH got 16.2 per cent fewer applications than in 2016. Kim Ryholt, Professor of Egyptology, reckons the stories are timed to run at the time young people are about to choose their education programmes.

“We did not fill out all our places this year, which is sad because the subject is an international success story,” he says.

 

It does great harm to us when the Ministry flashes numbers that subsequently turn out to be incorrect. Every year, a campaign runs in the media against the humanities in connection with study programme selection that tries to make young people choose to study something else. It is starting to get tedious.
Jens Erik Mogensen, Faculty of Humanities, Associate Dean for Education.

Kim Ryholt refers to the fact that Egyptology, Assyriology and Near-Eastern Archaeology collectively have acquired DKK 100 million in external funding over the last ten years, and graduates are getting employed at recognized universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale.

It’s a big worry that the ministry is in such a mess with its numbers.

Kim Ryholt, Professor of Egyptology

He points out that 14 candidates have graduated from Egyptology in 2012-15 – not 18, as the Ministry writes in the memo, which is based on numbers from uddannelseszoom.dk – a website which is to help young people in their educational choices.

Kim Ryholt checked the data from the unemployment insurance fund Magistrenes A-kasse. In June 2017, the unemployment rate for Egyptologists was zero.

“It’s a big worry that the ministry is such a mess with its numbers”, he says.

Nicole Brisch, associate professor of Assyriology, was furious when she saw the Ministry’s unemployment top 15, where it appears that 13 assyriologists had graduated from 2012 to 2015.

“They are wrong. We had three graduates, and they are all highly skilled and successful. I really do not know where the ministry has its numbers from,” says Nicole Brisch.

Two of them have a PhD scholarship, and the other one has fixed employment, she says.

Ingolf Thuesen, Head of Department at the Department of Cross-cultural and Regional Studies, cannot recognize the Ministry’s numbers for Near-Eastern Archaeology.

12 graduated in 2012-2015, and not 17. The department has been in contact with everyone with the exception of one who is living abroad. And everyone states they are working, he says.

The Ministry to correct its errors

The errors in the data have had the Faculty of Humanities (HUM) sending in a complaint to the ministry.

“It does great harm to us when the Ministry flashes numbers that subsequently turn out to be incorrect. Every year, a campaign runs in the media against the humanities in connection with study programme selection that tries to make young people choose to study something else. It is starting to get tedious,” says .Jens Erik Mogensen, the Faculty of Humanities’ Dean for Education.

No one at the ministry has wanted to go on the record, but the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education has sent a written reply to the University Post. It appears that graduates from Assyriology have been registered under the designation ‘Near-Eastern Ancient Culture’, which also includes Near-Eastern Archaeology, Egyptology and Turkish. The Agency’s policy is that there must be at least 10 candidates trained during the period before the unemployment figures appear:

“This means that there are currently too few graduates to show unemployment data on Assyriology in Uddannelseszoom.dk” writes the Agency, which has subsequently removed the numbers.

Unemployment data from Near-Eastern Archaeology are also gone, but they are still showing for Egyptology.

Feels like second-class citizen

One of the UCPH assyriologists who has been employed abroad is Gojko Barjamovic, a Senior Lecturer on Assyriology at Harvard University.

His wife, Agnete Wisti Lassen, who he met when they studied Assyriology in Copenhagen together, is now the curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection.

While he is respected in the United States, in Denmark he is, as a humanities academic, sometimes made to feel like a second-class citizen.

“In the US, a field like Assyriology is seen as fundamental, because its mission is to train complete human beings. They cannot imagine that someone who is properly educated knows nothing about, for instance, the origins of human society”.

Too often, we see a very primitive conception of what the ‘benefit’ is, in discussions on Danish higher education. Too much is concerned with economics in the narrowest possible sense of the word. But a society should have an interest in understanding itself at a deeper level, and not just focus on whatever leads to simple economic gain.

Gojko Barjamovic, Senior Lecturer at Harvard University.

According to Gojko Barjamovic, a number of small subjects at UCPH are leading at an international level, because the programmes are designed as apprenticeships, with the established academics teaching new students. This is about to be lost, as all subjects, in his view, are becoming homogenized and are assessed according to the same criteria.

“Danish programmes are becoming increasingly homogenized and adapted to one single structure. But it seems meaningless that a microscopic subject, such as Assyriology, which is specifically oriented towards producing researchers, and which is tasked with delivering very few graduates to compete for international positions, should be assessed according to the same principles as major academic programs with a much more direct professional orientation,” says Gojko Barjamovic.

He adds that the system is not geared to handling the diversity that a university should embrace.

“Too often, we see a very primitive conception of what the ‘benefit’ is in discussions on Danish higher education. Too much is concerned with economics in the narrowest possible sense of the word. But a society should have an interest in understanding itself at a deeper level, and not just focus on whatever leads to simple economic gain,” he says.

Italian programme surprise

At the Italian programme they are also surprised. On another website targeting young people (uddannelsesguiden.dk), Italian is mentioned among a group of subjects with relatively high unemployment. Over 10 per cent.

“Here there is no prospect of immediate recovery, and they should continue to fight hard and creatively to find jobs,” it says. On Uddannelseszoom.dk, however, there were no unemployment data for Italian until March 2017.

This is according to Lene Rotne, MA in Italian and Danish, who in connection with her PhD work at the Danish Language Council and the Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies at the University of Copenhagen has studied unemployment among graduates from the Italian programme.

She interviewed 66 graduates from 2000-15 and found that four of them, i.e. six per cent, are redundant, and only one of them had just graduated. Almost everyone replied that they used the skills they achieved on the education programmes, something that is not shown in the Uddannelseszoom.dk.

According to the latest statistics from the unemployment fund Magistrene’s A-kasse, the programme’s unemployment rate is now down at 4.1 per cent. Nevertheless, the Italian programme has been downsized under the dimensioning reforms, so that 21 will now be admitted instead of 28 bachelor and 4 instead of 7 master students annually from 2020.

Old unemployment data is the problem

The dimensioning reforms which capped admission numbers were introduced by the previous SR coalition government in 2014 to reduce the number of study places for education programmes that “historically have been affected by a systematic and significant degree of redundancy.” Unemployment numbers were also used from 2011 and from further back.

Here are the unemployment numbers

The most common method to calculate unemployment in Denmark is to use the so-called gross unemployment rate.

Here, the number of 16-64 year-olds is counted who receive unemployment benefits, are job-seekers, or are in a job activation programme.

There are different estimates as to exactly how many humanities graduates are redundant.

• According to the Magistrenes A-Kasse statistics, unemployment in the Humanities was at 5.8 per cent in June 2017.
• According to the AC-akademikere, the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations, unemployment for humanities students is 7.3 per cent and the total unemployment among academics is 4.6 per cent (June 2017)
• Statistics Denmark calculates gross unemployment for humanities and theologians with a medium-level higher education at 3 per cent, with a bachelor degree at 6.4 per cent and with a longer higher education at 8.2 per cent (2016).
• According to Statistics Denmark the total gross unemployment rate in Denmark is 4.3 per cent.

But it’s wrong to use the old figures, says Associate Dean Jens Erik Mogensen, because there are subjects which have been downsized where the unemployment level is now very low.

“We have subjects like French and German, which are under the general unemployment level of society, yet they have been violently downsized. This is surprising, as we can see that German programme graduates will be in high demand, as many gymnasium teachers are up for retirement in the coming years,” he says.

Jens Erik Mogensen believes that another problem is that the ministry focuses solely on the unemployment rate for graduates.

“It is true that our graduates take a little longer to gain a foothold in the labour market and get a permanent position, because they are education programmes for generalists. But we have improved career guidance and the opportunities to get into internships to ensure a smoother transition to the labour market,” says the Associate Dean.

Debate is based on mis-understandings

Per Clausen, chairman of the Magistrene’s A-Kasse, believes that the debate on humanities unemployment rates is characterized by misunderstandings and ignorance.

“Our members may take time to claw their way into the labour market, but the situation is varied, and they end up getting jobs to the same extent as other academics. Humanities graduates are good at exploiting opportunities in the labour market, and half of them now get jobs in the private sector,” says Per Clausen.

He thinks it seems dumb and short-term to cut down the language subjects. “You can always discuss how misunderstandings arise, but it is clear that there are strong economic interests behind wanting to get more young people to choose a vocational education programme. I can understand that, but there is no need to attack the humanities,” says Per Clausen.

Industry lobby wants to change the dimensioning model

Charlotte Rønhof, Deputy Director at the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) has heard that DI has been named as the worst enemy of the humanities. But this is “not how we see ourselves,” she says.

“It is definitely the view of DI that we need humanities graduates. The challenge has been that more people want to study humanities subjects than can be taken in by the labour market. But the specific situation is always subtle, and you can easily have high unemployment on one subject and low unemployment on another,” says Charlotte Rønhof.

DI has pointed out that the small subjects are not the core problem, just because they are small. They should be viewed as particular cases as they constitute a kind of knowledge database that any civilized society should have.

Charlotte Rønhof, Deputy Director for the Confederation of Danish Industries (DI)

DI supports the dimensioning reform, but is critical of the current model based on historical redundancy numbers. She believes that you should try to project how many graduates will be needed in the future.

“I know that you cannot predict everything, but this is not an excuse for not trying based on the knowledge we have. Past figures show that we could face a demand in the language subjects. But I may be concerned about future unemployment in social science, where there has been an increase in admissions,” says Charlotte Rønhof.

She says that “it is ridiculous” to name subjects such as Egyptology and Assyriology in connection with a debate about unemployment among humanities graduates.

“DI has pointed out that the small subjects are not the core problem, just because they are small. They should be viewed as particular cases as they constitute a kind of knowledge database that any civilized society should have. We have repeatedly called for a national language strategy, so that a political decision is made on which languages ​​it is important to have. Today it is a bit random, and it depends on the individual university’s finances which subjects will be closed down,” says Charlotte Rønhof.

The Danish government’s dimensioning model is to be evaluated before the autumn.

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