Shape campaign: A rebranding of ‘soft’ academic subjects

More young people are being encouraged to study arts, humanities and social science subjects.

boy in classroom

A ‘re-branding’ campaign, dubbed Shape, has been launched to promote academic disciplines typically seen as ‘soft’, such as languages, history and English literature.

Shape – Social sciences, Humanities, the Arts for People & the Economy – attempts to emulate the success of Stem in emphasising to young people the importance of other subjects in planning higher education and careers.

The campaign will be led by the London School of Economics, which argues that these subjects are vital for the development of verbal reasoning, as well as a greater holistic understanding of society, environment and culture. Grant applications for research funding will supposedly be given equal priority to the promotion of these subjects, according to campaigners.

Julia Black, one of the architects of the plan, and a professor of law at LSE, said: ‘This is about levelling up the agenda. It is a way of establishing equality.

“We’re not setting up Shape in opposition to Stem and, in fact, many scientists and engineers would agree it is wrong to deny that the sort of articulacy and reasoning skills developed by studying history, or theatre, or by learning a foreign language, have the same value as a scientific or mathematical training.

“But the humanities can sometimes be dismissed as ‘soft subjects’ and not given the same credit, which matters when it comes to basic education and to funding research. They can be a bit of a blind spot and that is damaging.”

Sir Peter Bazalgette, former chairman of the Arts Council, which is supporting the campaign alongside the British Academy, has criticised the UK Government for judging “the success of a course by the salaries earned on graduation”.

Instead, he has highlighted the importance of lower-paid work, which he believes is influential in Britain’s creative economy.

The disciplines involved in Shape focus on human behaviour, which will be required, according to Black, ‘to build a better country’ while ‘broadening the score card’ by adding to the presence and power of Stem subjects.

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