Your report on plans to change university admissions (Ministers may move university applications to after A-level results, 26 June) referred to concerns that the government wants to “clamp down on student numbers taking humanities courses”. It is disputed as to whether Churchill, when asked why not give up the arts budget to the war effort, replied: “Then what are we fighting for?” It doesn’t matter who asked the question. It’s a good one and stands over every culture and society.
What is clear as we reflect on our current fight against, among other things, Covid-19, inequality, environmental disaster and anti-democratic populism, is the need for an informed sense of the past, an emotional intelligence to understand those different to ourselves, and artists who give voice to the values that are both timely and timeless.
To reduce the study of the humanities will be to drain the fountain that irrigates life itself. It will lead to a parched plain and a world that may materially have lots to live with but with little sense of what to live for.
Canon Mark Oakley
• Your editorial (26 June) about students in the arts continues a long discussion, well predating the acronym Stem. During the second world war, many students in the sciences and medicine were exempt from the call-up to the forces, but those in the arts were not.
James Chuter Ede, who had read natural sciences at Cambridge, was Labour’s education spokesman and junior minister in the war coalition. He lobbied for the early release of these students, when Ernest Bevin put together proposals for demobilisation at the war’s end. Unless “humanitarians”, as Ede called them, could return to the universities, we might be “destroying the future of the civilisation for which we are fighting”.
“The idea,” he said in 1962, “that one set of people in the country are interested in the humanities and another in the sciences, and that the two live in quite different worlds, is one of the dangers we have to face. While science plays a bigger part in our life than it did before 1860, there are still the great abiding humanities, and the ancient civilisations which so largely still form our own way of thinking.”
As we are demobbed from our current crisis, Stem subjects may answer many questions; Shape subjects ask the questions.
• The plan to await A-level results before offering university places has been a long time coming. The January start is the best option, not only to give time for applications, but also to encourage potential students to embark on a term of study that would be taken into consideration by universities. For a country embarking on the challenges of the new Brexit era, I would have hoped that a forward-looking government would be encouraging its potential graduates to be fluent in at least one other language irrespective of their degree. Some humanities students might benefit from a more science-based course, but the possibilities are endless and universities would benefit from more broadly educated undergraduates.
South Wonston, Hampshire
• The arts and humanities do indeed “give life shape”. The new school curriculum in Wales acknowledges that they are an essential part of any full programme of learning. “Expressive arts” and “humanities” are two of the six areas of learning that every young person will experience from pre-school through to age 16.
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