Proponents of popular BA degree say course valuable despite push towards science and technology.

Students beginning university this week are most likely to take a degree focused on human society or culture, despite the ongoing push towards science and technology.

Humanities and social science subjects were the field of choice for almost a quarter of students graduating with a bachelor's degree in 2013, figures show.

The subjects, usually part of a bachelor of arts degree, had 6700 graduates out of a total of 29,250 nationwide. Business made up 6610 of the total pool - of which 1740 were accounting students.

Health, including medicine, nursing, pharmacy and vet science, had 4800 graduates. Science came in at 3020 and engineering subjects with 870. Law had 1540.


Proponents of the popular bachelor of arts degree say it proves the course has value despite the constant criticism it doesn't prepare students to get a job.

"Our students do get jobs," said AUT's Sharon Harvey, Head of School of Language and Culture.

"We teach students to narrate, to interpret, and about critical thinking. We teach comprehensive thought."

She said as the workplace had changed in the past 10 years, many arts subjects had become increasingly important - creative writing for example.

"It teaches how to develop narrative, and those people then go on and create content for websites, or embody a character on social media."

Figures from the Ministry of Education show that arts graduates do contribute to the economic engine.

After five years, the average income for a bachelor of arts graduate was around $50,000, the median for degree graduates. Medicine graduates earned about twice that, while creative arts graduates - performers, artists, and the like - had the lowest earnings and were most likely to be on welfare.

However, graduate choices do not match up with the Government's desire to pair skills with labour market needs - focusing on skill shortages in information technology and the "STEM" subjects - science, technology, engineering, and maths.


Last year, Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce allocated an extra $67.9 million for science in tertiary education in the hope of attracting more students.

Victoria University Wellington's new dean of humanities and social sciences, Professor Jennifer Windsor, said internationally the focus had shifted to humanities and sciences equally.

"There is a recognition that we separated the two artificially, but that we need people with both," she said.

Professor Windsor said while arts degrees weren't focused on jobs in that their subject name didn't match a vocation - like, law, accounting, engineering - they did prepare students for a job.

"Our graduates are helping to drive the economic engine."

Arts degree enhances skills - student

Kendall Kerr took history at university - but it doesn't mean she went on to become a historian.

The former AUT student says she wanted to get an edge over other business graduates and chose to do a conjoint arts degree to gain better real-world skills.

"I realised that an understanding of business concepts was only part of it. While I would understand organisational structures, having a Bachelor of Arts would strengthen my understanding in culture and history issues," she said.

Ms Kerr, 24, is one of the nearly 7000 arts graduates of 2013. It took four years to complete the course, including some work placement.

She now works as a learning and development co-ordinator in the Human Relations department of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare in Auckland.

It's her second job since graduating - the first was at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment - and while technically a business role, her social science background has been extremely useful.

"The things I learned in history give you an appreciation of the people you meet day-to-day," she says. "That's the most rewarding thing."

Ms Kerr says she doesn't believe the arts degree deserves its bad reputation - it's often criticised for failing to prepare students for a job.

"I think more than anything it's the soft skills you learn in arts that are important," she says. "A business degree can't teach you that."