Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 87

Submission from the British Philosophical Association

  1.  Introduction: This evidence is being submitted by Prof. Helen Beebee, University of Birmingham, on behalf of the British Philosophical Association (BPA).

  2.  Summary: The BPA believes that the proposed phasing out of funding for ELQs will disproportionately affect both students and departments of Philosophy. Further, that a Philosophy degree, as an ELQ, can significantly enhance a student's employability; thus making the study of Philosophy as an ELQ more costly runs contrary to the spirit of the Government's "skills agenda".

  3.  About 37% of students studying Philosophy at the Open University are ELQ students; the figure for the Philosophy Department at Birkbeck is 31%. These figures contrast with the proportion of ELQ students at the OU as a whole, which is about 25%, and nationally, which is lower still. Philosophy is thus disproportionately represented amongst ELQ students, and thus Philosophy ELQ students, and the Departments that teach them, will be disproportionately affected.

  4.  Removal of ELQ funding will not only have a detrimental effect on the numbers of students pursuing Philosophy at ELQ level; it will also have a detrimental effect on those Philosophy departments that teach a high proportion of ELQ students—specifically the OU and Birkbeck, which were rated 4 and 5 respectively in RAE 2001. This will affect the quality and standing of UK Philosophy research internationally.

  5.  The proposal to remove ELQ funding is misconceived, since it presupposes that qualifications at the same level, irrespective of the discipline within which the qualification is gained, deliver the same set of skills. This is manifestly not the case.

  6.  A Philosophy degree is recognized by employers as making a valuable contribution to the skills of the workforce. The following quotations are taken from a Guardian article, "I think therefore I earn" (20.11.07, 0,,2213665,00.html):

    Lucy Adams, human resources director of Serco, a services business and a consultancy firm, says: "Philosophy lies at the heart of our approach to recruiting and developing our leadership, and our leaders. We need people who have the ability to look for different approaches and take an open mind to issues. These skills are promoted by philosophical approaches."

    Fiona Czerniawska, director of the Management Consultancies Association's think tank, says: "A philosophy degree has trained the individual's brain and given them the ability to provide management-consulting firms with the sort of skills that they require and clients demand. These skills can include the ability to be very analytical, provide clear and innovative thinking, and question assumptions."

    Deborah Bowman, associate dean for widening participation at St George's, University of London, which offers medicine and health sciences courses, says philosophers are increasingly sought after by the NHS: "Graduates of philosophy who come in to graduate-entry medicine, or to nursing courses, are very useful. Growth areas in the NHS include clinical ethicists, who assist doctors and nurses. Medical ethics committees and ethics training courses for staff are also growing. More and more people are needed to comment on moral issues in healthcare, such as abortion."

  7.  A degree, or sub-degree credits in Philosophy, provides valuable training in intellectual skills, such as those listed in the Quality Assurance Agency's Philosophy Benchmark Statement ( philosophy.pdf, §§ 23-26), including articulacy in identifying underlying issues in all kinds of debate; precision of thought and expression in the analysis and formulation of complex and controversial problems; the ability to analyse and construct good arguments; and the ability to consider unfamiliar ideas and ways of thinking.

  8.  Such skills are developed to a greater extent in Philosophy than in other subject areas, and they are therefore skills that will be developed in a student studying Philosophy even if they already have a qualification at the same or a higher level in another discipline.

  9.  The removal of funding for Philosophy as an ELQ would therefore contradict the spirit of the Leitch Review of Skills 2006.

January 2008

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