Discussing the potential of liberal arts: outdated or essential?
Discussing the potential of liberal arts: outdated or essential?
  • Ewha Voice
  • 승인 2018.09.04 23:01
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If Shakespeare were to live in today’s society, he might have been jobless. Why? Korea’s youth unemployment rate is hitting the ground hard, with its worst figures of all times for Liberal Arts majors. Last year, Ministry of Education stated that the employment rate of Liberal Arts majors was 57.6%, while that of engineering majors was 71.6%. Furthermore, according to the Federation of Korean Industries, 56.8% of major domestic companies preferred engineering majors over Liberal Arts majors. This phenomenon has become so prevalent in our society that Liberal Arts students are starting to say “Mun-song hamnida,” a buzz-phrase which means “I’m sorry for being a Liberal Arts major.” 


Universities deal with Liberal Arts job crunch

In order to deal with worsening unemployment for Liberal Arts students in college, specialized departments and majors regarding Liberal Arts affiliation have appeared in various universities. Majors are systematically established by universities in order to foster the growth of convergent and competent students and experts in subdivided fields of study. The universities provide freshman with a variety of advantages such as scholarship, foreign training, and entrance to employment.

For example, in 2012, Sogang University created a convergent major of liberal arts and computer engineering titled “ A r t & Technology.” It aims to produce a “Korean Steve Jobs” and manages educational curriculum by integrating engineering, humanities, culture and arts.

The specialized departments on Liberal Arts affiliation also emphasizes the keyword of heading towards globalization. Currently, there are a variety of majors focusing on the area of being global, especially in the area of business management and economics. The fundamental disciplines they provide are overseas training and foreign language education, which differ from universities according to the fields of study.

For instance, the School of Global Service at Sookmyung Women’s University inaugurated the first entrepreneurship major domestically. It endeavors to produce global business leaders by equipping students with classes all conducted by English and by presenting a diverse range of foreign field study. Similarly, in 2014, the LD (Language & Diplomacy) major was newly established at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Its main objective is to encourage the internationally expertized human resources through educating students on foreign studies and diplomacy field of study. Kyunghee University’s Department of Global Eminence also highlights the importance of becoming a globalized world leader.

Kang Ji-yoon, a freshman from the Department of English Language a n d Literature at Kyunghee University, discussed the controversy considering the increasing tendency of universities establishing a specialized department.

“I have realized a lot by noticing how a majority of colleges began to create convergent majors,” she remarked. “Despite the fact that students are able to learn a variety of knowledge, I doubt those majors would provide benefits in the long terms. If convergent majors continue to increase, I consider professional intellectuals will decrease. It is a pity situation where university students are studying to satisfy their future employer instead of learning what they are interested in.”

Moreover, the school's administrative office of the Department of Philosophy commented on the unemployment issue ongoing for students majoring Liberal Arts. “In order to improve the situation of jobs crunch at College of Liberal Arts, we believe that it is necessary to enhance the perception where people solely focus on the outcome of the materialistic society,” they said. “It is also crucial to guarantee institutional support as well.” 

Ewha’s attempts to strengthen its humanities department fail students’ expectations

The Ministry of Education and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) launched CORE (Initiative for College of Humanities’ Research and Education) in 2016. Under government support, universities designated as trial schools are to work on developing their own strategies to strengthen its humanities education.

As one of the 19 schools taking part in the initiative, Ewha participates in building three out of the five models proposed by CORE: convergence studies, regional studies, and intensive fundamental studies. Through the Lucete Humanities Project, the school provided tutoring programs for Latin and Cantonese. Necessary credits needed for graduation were increased for most Liberal Arts majors except for those majoring in Chinese, French or German. Humanities curriculums became more closely knit with graduate schools, as its departments now provides “track” systems which students apply according to their future plans.

Three new humanities convergence majors were introduced to students: Humanities & Business, Humanities & Cultural Arts, and Media and Humanities & Technology. Students can choose one of these as a double major or a minor, while taking classes from various fields of study. However, students remained skeptical about the new majors. “Almost every liberal arts student has a double major, but it’s hard to see why one would choose a Humanities & Business convergence major over a double major in business,” said Chae Hyun-ji, a sophomore from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature. “I'm currently aiming for a double major in business management, so the convergence major seems redundant to me.” “It’s a good idea, but I do think companies would favor a business management double major over a Humanities & Business major,” said an anonymous sophomore. “Companies are much more familiar with management or economics majors than a two-year-old convergence major program.” '

The Value of Humanities in the Digital Age: Interview with Prof. Yoon Bo-suk and Scott Hartley

With the news that large companies prefer people from science and engineering fields through the media, students feel the pressure to learn science subjects in order to live a successful life.

Professor Yoon Bo-suk, the head of College of Humanities explained how the society has to change in order to increase the chances of employment for students majoring in humanities.

“Humanities is not something that is immediately and directly applied to tasks when working at a company,” Yoon said. “For example, if the company has faced a major crisis, a worker who has majored in humanities can use his or her empathy, problem solving, and communication skills. I agree that STEM majors are necessary, but industries should realize that humanities majors can be creative and innovative when in need.”

He also added how Ewha is encouraging knowledge exchange between humanities and STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“In Ewha there is the Humanities & Technology interdepartmental major, which was created to foster creative students with a balanced understanding of humanities and science and IT-centric practical S/ W technology and data processing capabilities,” Yoon stated.

Furthermore, Yoon expressed lament as he believes that some students feel intimidated and scared to take such courses with the students who actually major in STEM. Thus, he suggested that Ewha should expand the courses where humanities major students could learn computing, coding, and science other than STEM majors.

Similarly to Professor Yoon, Scott Hartley, a U.S. venture capitalist, also argued that the humanities and social sciences are becoming more important in the age of technology and that professionals in those fields are at the center of business growth.

His book, The Fuzzy and the Techie, which supports his argument, was recently published in Korea. In the original, “Fuzzy” refers to humanities and social sciences majors and “Techie” refers to engineering or computer science majors.

Hartley explained that to the extent that all companies solve human problems, there is not a company on the planet that does not revolve around the humanities and social sciences. “If you look at a company like Apple, the interface design was inspired by calligraphy,” Hartley said. “At Facebook, the product is much more psychological than it is technical, and we forget that Mark Zuckerberg studied psychology at Harvard, not computer science. Companies like YouTube are run by people like Susan Wojcicki who studied history and literature. Aside from these individuals, the design of every successful product requires an understanding of human problems. It’s therefore hard, if not impossible, to find a company that doesn’t at its core deeply rely on the humanities and social sciences.”

Hartley also suggested ways in how universities can enable collaboration and knowledge exchange between humanities and STEM majors.

“In Harvard there are philosophy PhD teaching assistants who teach in computer science courses,” Hartley said. “That way, students may listen to a lecture, and perform a task that relates to computer science, but when they break out into smaller discussion groups once per week the facilitation is around the philosophical questions of what they’ve built. If we simply treat the problem as a computer problem we overlook that it’s actually a very human problem that has roots and inputs from a dozen different domains and schools of thought. We need to expose students to this reality, this complexity.”

(written by Cho In-hyo, Yun Sol, Ahn Chee-young, Jung Yu-kyung)

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