The value of English: through and beyond employability

Cassie UlphConference Room

Narratives of ‘value for money’ in higher education since the introduction of higher undergraduate fees increasingly focus on student ‘employability’ and salary outcomes, particularly in the media. It is a common and fair observation by academics that this fails to recognise more holistic kinds of ‘value’, particularly in the humanities. At postgraduate level, universities have long seen PhD students in the Arts and Humanities as loss leaders. However, against this financial loss there is also a constant drive to increase PhD student numbers, diversify sources of research income for PhD studentships, and increase the research outputs and contribution to the research community that PhD students undoubtedly make. At all levels, concepts of ‘value’ are not mutually exclusive and it is in the best interests of students and universities that we recognise their interconnections.

This panel, then, will ask not only how we can articulate the value of English as a subject, but how do we value our students? In order to support truly equal participation in arts and humanities subjects, it is necessary to develop ideas of cultural, personal and social value alongside the practicalities of students’ lives, recognising the importance of work-preparedness and students’ financial stability. As the constitution of this panel reflects, this is best supported through collaborative work between academic and professional colleagues, and across levels of study.

This panel will offer different perspectives and experiences of articulating the ‘value’ of an English degree: both for the benefit of the students and within and beyond ‘The University’. It will consider the reciprocal relationships that can be established between employability ‘skills’ and broader social, cultural and personal ‘values’, and how English degrees in particular can empower students to navigate employability contexts through recognising their own value in a wider world. We will focus on three distinct areas as a prompt for discussion:

English@Work: Cassie Ulph and Claudia Capancioni will share their experience of developing and running English@Work, a subject-specific employability module at Bishop Grosseteste University established as part of BGU’s recently revalidated, interdisciplinary English programmes, which focusses on students’ projects and interests in a Humanities context. We will draw on examples of student work and consider outcomes in terms of practical skills, professionalization and personal development. We will also consider the benefits of co-delivery of subject-specific employability modules by subject specialists with academic-related and professional staff.

English in the World: applications and opportunities for Literature, Language, and Creative Writing courses: Susan Anderson and Kaley Kramer explore how what sometimes gets treated distinctly as ‘employability’ is at the heart of English studies, making English a degree for life, not just for work.

PGR skills, value and employability: Zi Parker will explore the value of PhD students and endeavour to discuss how the best PhD student experience adds value to both the individual student experience and wider research community. Drawing on both REF 2014 data and student destination data Zi will debunk the myth that making a financial loss on a PhD student is problematic for universities and show how the best student training and support can lead to better PhD student outcomes and continue to add value to the wider arts and humanities community.

Fri 12:30 pm - 1:45 pm