A friend once told me that developing countries should not offer courses in the humanities because it is so difficult to find jobs with a Bachelor of Arts. He himself was struggling to finish a Masters in the field of humanities and so I thought him jaded.
Several years later and at the end of my Honours degree in the same field, and I cannot help but look back at that comment.
A few years ago, Professor Jonathan Jansen wrote a piece defending the BA degree. In this piece, he quotes the oft said joke, 'What is the difference between a BA degree and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four'. He said he laughed at the joke and then he cried. I feel the same way when I hear this joke.
One of the most talked about problems between my friends and I, is that BA degrees often do not offer you direction. This is especially true for BA degrees that are involved in some way or another with languages. You finish with a range of skills, but what feels like little specialisation. It is sometimes difficult to explain to people what it is exactly that you studied. Most people think you sat and read all day. How do you explain to someone that you had to analyse motivations and personalities and consider the human condition? It is sometimes easier to nod and say you read Shakespeare all day.
I will never regret what I have studied. I love reading and writing and analysing, but I do believe when choosing degrees, students should know what the road going forward looks like.
It is also a known fact within the humanities that after your undergraduate degree, you will be presented with three options. You can try your luck and go into the working world, you can do your Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and become a teacher or you can study further. Most people opt for the last two options, not because they are easier, but because they offer greater job security.
And so, as a BA degree holder, your path is not the simplest. Most people who study engineering will become some sort of engineer and most who study accounting will become some sort of accountant. For the BA kids, your choices are as certain as they are uncertain. I suppose this type of vagueness puts parents off when encouraging their children to study. They want their children to have secure futures, and unfortunately, sometimes with a BA degree you are not guaranteed that.
I will never regret what I have studied. I love reading and writing and analysing, but I do believe when choosing degrees, students should know what the road going forward looks like. My mother, having studied a BA degree herself and then a PGCE, warned me that I would not be able to stop studying after my undergraduate degree. I would need to specialise further. I listened with half an ear to her advice, not finding truth in her words until recently having examined the job market.
What have I gained after completing a BA degree in English Studies and an Honours degree in Applied Languages? Do I sometimes wish I had studied something else? The answer to the second question is 'yes'. Sometimes I do wish I studied something else, until I need to sit down and write a something or I need to brainstorm an idea about how to create a platform that allows writers to easily share their work with editors and translators. Then, I no longer regret my decision to study something that allowed me to be flexible and dynamic in my thinking. I suppose that is what I gained from both my degrees, a flexible and dynamic mind. Sometimes I do become frustrated when trying to find a way to make a living with this flexible and dynamic mind, but with Trump now being president of America, rumblings of ISIS in Europe and a crashing economy in South Africa, maybe we need more flexible and dynamic minds.