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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


WOLHUTER, Charl. The surging humanities enrolments at Higher Education Institutions worldwide. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.1, pp.367-382. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article offers a stocktaking and critical, meaning-searching interrogation of the humanities as collective at universities and in the twenty-first-century society. As a working definition of "humanities", the lexical definition of "any of the fields of scholarship taking the mental life and resultant cultural products of humans as its object ofstudy " is accepted. To the humanities belong not only history and linguistics but also the group of fields sometimes named the social sciences, such as sociology, anthropology and political science. "An autonomous institution devoted to the advancement of various branches of higher learning" is taken as a working definition of a university. During its long history, this institution has acquired an unexchangeable, irreplaceable number of interrelated roles in society, namely teaching and research, community service of a particular kind, innovation, cultural preservation, transmittance and development, and societal critique. A set of powerful societal forces characterising the twenty-first-century society is gathering momentum today, including the ecological crisis, demographic dynamics (population explosion in the Global South, changing age profiles, migration patterns and an increasingly mobile population) and growing affluence as well as inequalities. Also part of these forces are a nascent knowledge economy, the fourth industrial revolution, the neo-liberal economic revolution, changing roles in the family and the workplace and the rise of tertiary social groupings, technological developments (the information, communications and transportation revolution in particular), the rise of multicultural societies, democratisation and individualisation, the rise of global political structures, the persistent but changed presence of religion in society and the rise of the creed of human rights as the new global moral code. These trends underscore even more the role and value of the university in society, including that of the humanities in universities. After having been on the periphery of society for centuries, the university as institution has, since the mid-twentieth century and especially since the global higher education revolution has commenced around 1990, moved to the frontstage of society. In view of the imperatives that the nascent, unfolding twenty-first century directs to higher education, this is a wholesome development, as is the swelling rise of enrolments in the humanities as part of the massification that is the hallmark of the global higher education revolution. In countries such as the United States of America, Turkey and Egypt, at any given point, the number of students of humanities at universities runs into the millions, while in the case of India, the figure tops the 12 million mark. The case for the humanities and enrolling in the humanities can be strongly argued from many points of view, not only in terms of the need of a schooled citizenry (or elite vanguard of the citizenry schooled in the humanities) but also from stark empirical evidence of individual and social rates of return (although the numbers of publications with these calculations are not at all sufficient). The biggest lacuna is the absence of research on the teaching and research of humanities at universities on the research agenda of the meteoric rise of higher education as field of scholarship in recent decades. Without denigrating or negating the importance of academic freedom and academic autonomy of faculty, such research is needed in order to construct a pedagogy of humanities and to guide faculty in advancing humanities at universities. In conclusion, some suggestions as to the research agenda for such a research project on the pedagogy of humanities at universities are made. These include teaching methods, learning methods, curricula, the need for a normative superstructure in the humanities, tracer studies (surveying both students and employers), individual as well as social rates of return analyses, student surveys and surveying students' sources of inspiration and motivation for enrolling in the humanities.

Keywords : democratisation; global higher education revolution; higher education as field of scholarship; higher education enrolments; humanities; individual rates of return; social rates of return; social sciences; societal critique; university.

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