Last Saturday afternoon, I spent an hour on the Spanish department stall at the College Open Day. I was surprised by the fact that most of the people approaching me with questions were the parents of prospective students rather than the students themselves.
On several occasions, worried looking mothers with their arms full of departmental leaflets approached nervously to ask me if there was any demand for Spanish in the employment market.
When I said that the TSM arts degree could lead to many different employment opportunities, often not directly related to the field of study, I was met with scepticism.
From the point of view of a parent who is about to make a massive financial investment in a degree for their child, this is a completely understandable response. Higher education is becoming more expensive every year, but its value in the workplace is going down. As more and more people obtain undergraduate degrees, many people are pursuing postgraduate studies simply to make themselves stand out in the crowd.
These effects are especially felt among those studying arts subjects, which is why it was not surprising to see them indirectly addressed by the working group established to consider possible changes to the Two Subject Moderatorship (TSM), Trinity’s main arts degree.
In the minutes of the working group’s first meeting, there is a list of “tentative answers” to the question “what is so great about TSM?” The first two answers are “it attracts students who want to learn for the sake of learning” and “it attracts students who are not sure what they want to do.” To label these two factors as positive was an important step towards reclaiming the intrinsic value of studying the arts.
To be able to think critically, to compare knowledge across cultures and times, or to dismantle language and see how it functions are all important skills. It is essential that we do not allow them to become devalued at a time when entrepreneurship and enterprise are worshipped in a quasi-religious fashion by those in power both in government and institutions such as universities.
The move to identify and address problems within the TSM degree is coming at a critical moment. If it is done correctly, it will be a chance for the arts departments to prove that they are not as ineffective, wasteful and chaotic as they are perceived to be. It will show that those involved in the TSM course take their work very seriously, and that they should be shown the same respect as the scientific disciplines, especially when it comes to the allocation of funding.
The main conclusion of the working group’s first meeting was that the lack of administrative coherence across TSM needs to be addressed. This is a course with 178 possible subject combinations, so it is naturally very difficult to manage.
There seems to be a desire for a centralisation of procedure to the TSM course office, rather than the individual departments or schools. This could make TSM easier to navigate for both students and staff. However, if College does not get behind this process there is no way that the best possible results can be achieved.
Trinity must show that it values the arts and humanities just as much as the sciences. The highest levels of Trinity’s administration must provide both moral and financial support for the reform of TSM. It is often too easy to forget that this university is trading on a reputation that would not exist without the great work done here in the arts throughout the years.