Arts crucial in an innovative nation

Professor Beth Webster believes that subsidising university fees for science and technology students won’t make for higher enrolments.
Arts advocates big spending promises to attract science and technology students overlook the importance of the arts, writes Shelby Garlick.

Advocates for arts education have criticised the major parties’ emphasis on science and technology graduates, saying the arts are crucial to Australia becoming an innovative nation.

Sandra Gattenhof, Drama Australia’s representative on the National Advocates for Arts Education (NAAE), said that the arts were “too often enough forgotten about”.

This comes as the major parties commit millions of dollars in the lead up to the election to encourage more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates.

“The Australian curriculum needs to have a broadly inclusive approach that incorporates the arts, humanities, sciences and technologies,” she said.

Statistics released by the Foundation of Young Australians (FYA) in its New Work Order report found that 60 per cent of students are being trained in jobs that will be changed by automation.

“The arts doesn’t face these type of issues yet the Federal Government has no provision on the arts for Australia,” said Ms Gattenhof.

In the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) the Coalition announced $84 million to boost graduates of STEM university courses.

The Labor Party announced it would write off the HECS debts for 100,000 STEM students, if elected.

Neither of the major parties announced any funding or incentives for those wishing to pursue degrees in the arts or humanities.

“Polices should be shaped to cover the full variety of human intelligences, not just focusing on particular areas,” said Ms Gattenhof.

Bethany Webster, director of the Centre for Transformative Innovation at Swinburne University of Technology, said it was fair that more money was put into course where employees were needed.

“There is currently a demand for engineers. So it can be said that pushing for more of them will benefit society as a whole,” she said. “The push for innovation goes beyond making more graduates in STEM careers. Australia is great at making innovative ideas, but isn’t so good at exploiting them.”

Ms Gattenhof said, “learning in and through the arts is crucial in any learning environment designed to develop a culture of innovation.

“The arts provide practical framework for developing ideas. We want a well-rounded, inclusive education for everyone.”

Ms Webster and Ms Gattenhof both criticised the main parties’ policies on fee subsidies, saying that past experience has show it doesn’t achieve higher enrolments.

“A couple of years ago there was a fee subsidy and there was found to be no significant enrolments into STEM subjects,” said Ms Webster. “If the government want more people to go into STEM courses they need to catch students at secondary school, particularly middle school.

“There’s no point targeting people at the tail end, because they might not have the prerequisites, such as physics needed for a STEM course.”

The Coalition also pledged $13 million to encourage more women to choose and stay in STEM research and related careers – something Ms Webster said should begin at a young age.