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Sheffield Hallam’s decision to withdraw English Literature as a degree from 2023 and onwards has sparked an uproar regarding the fairness of universities disparaging what are labelled as “Mickey Mouse” degrees – degrees regarded as worthless. The arts typically fall under this category.

Although the university issued a statement arguing against the view that “the value of a degree [is] based purely on economic metrics such as future salaries,” they recognised that they must acknowledge “employers’ demands.” It is clear that this decision was an economic one and has further added to the pre-existing notion that some degrees do not carry value.

As an English Literature undergraduate myself, this decision was shocking to read about considering the aforementioned prejudices against arts and humanities, which I’ve personally seen expressed by teachers and students throughout my experience in the education system.  

When I reiterate that I don’t plan on becoming a teacher (the only viable career option for an English Literature student according to the myriad of people who’ve questioned me), I get asked where else my degree will take me. First of all, there are so many job opportunities that come with an English Literature degree and although they may not be the easiest to acquire, they do exist. Secondly, it’s common for people to work in a sector that’s unrelated to their degree, and that should be okay. It’s important that people refrain from undermining someone’s passion because it does not align with their career plan.

It isn’t ludicrous to desire a higher paying job; money is a necessity. I know people who chose their degrees because of the financial security attached to that field of work. However, imposing that notion onto individuals who refuse to center their lives around materialism is the issue. 

One of the reasons the arts are dismissed is due to the belief that they don’t teach anything of importance or that they can be practical in the workplace. This is an absurdly common misconception. All knowledge is valuable. My course has taught me about race, gender, sexuality, politics, history, religion, culture, identities – English Literature is a study of humanity in its entirety. Isn’t that significant and applicable?

The arts step out of the bounds of stringency and allow an understanding of mankind in a way that differs from STEM. Such subjects shouldn’t be belittled as “Mickey Mouse” for that reason and should not be perceived as unworthy for a degree. People who study words, ideas, and identities are just as intellectual as those who study cause-and-effect, logic, and patterns.

Removing English Literature as a degree strips individuals of their creative identities. Some people wish to pour themselves out onto a page, delve within the depth of imagination, and analyze the world’s chaos and complexities. That should be enough. It shouldn’t be a privilege that only a minority can afford due to its limited opportunities for pursuit, and it shouldn’t be viewed with no esteem.

Sharing his thoughts on Sheffield Hallam’s decision, Phillip Pullman, the author of His Dark Materials trilogy told the Guardian, “people young and old alike will perish of mental and emotional and imaginative starvation,” a statement I couldn’t agree with more. 

References: 

Sheffield Hallam’s statement: 

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/closing-our-english-literature-degree-not-attack-humanities

Phillip Pullman’s Guardian statement: 

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2022/jun/27/sheffield-hallam-university-suspends-low-value-english-literature-degree

Written by: Manhaaza Ashfaq

Edited by: Emily Gee

Hi! My name is Manhaaza and I'm currently a third year English Literature student at the University of Leeds. My passions predominantly involve reading novels (obviously), writing, music, and binging shows on Netflix!
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