Humanities: And now? Mapping the way forward

The Academy of Science of South Africa (Assaf) report proposes 10 “game-breaking recommendations”:


      1. Establish a statutory council for the humanities to advise the government on how to improve the status and standing of the humanities in South Africa.


      2. Review and refine government funding allocations to the humanities with earmarked funding in critical areas, such as African languages, philosophy, history and the creative and performing arts.


      3. Commit to the development of a government White Paper on the humanities that would place a renewed emphasis on the humanities and their full integration into national science policy.


      4. Restructure funding for advanced degrees (and doctorates in particular) through national funding agencies such as the National Research Foundation to enable full-time study for top candidates in the humanities who choose academic careers.


      5. Accelerate the establishment of research chairs and centres of excellence in the humanities and appoint leading professors with two clear missions: the pursuit of excellence in humanities research and the building of capacity for next-generation humanities scholars.


      6. Inaugurate a dedicated national fund for top-quality humanities research that combines earmarked government funding with private and philanthropic funding.


      7. Transform the organisation and design of Assaf, the only recognised academy in South Africa, so that a more emphatic statement of Assaf’s commitment to the humanities becomes self-evident. These could be to rename the academy; establish a second premier academy journal specifically for the humanities with Assaf’s South African Journal of Science as a model; and change Assaf’s constitution so that 50% of its council would be humanities appointments.


      8. Initiate, through the leadership of the national department of basic education, measures to boost knowledge of the humanities and positive study and career choices in the field throughout the 12 years of schooling, including progressive ways of privileging the arts, history and languages in the school curriculum.


      9. Advance the idea of a broad-based humanities tertiary curriculum, ideally in an interdisciplinary core study programme for undergraduates, which would expose all university students to some study of the humanities.


      10. Promote in the broader society the value of the humanities, and humanities scholarship and practice, with prestigious awards that would draw national and international attention to the humanities among school students, university students, scholars and intellectuals broadly. An annual national humanities lecture that would be televised and linked to a national medal in the humanities would do much to signal the importance of the humanities in the public sphere.

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane is currently the Mail & Guardian's education editor. He obtained an honours degree in English literature, a fairly unpopular choice among those who'd advised him to study something that would give him a real career and a pension plan. David joined the M&G in the late 1990s. There, the publication's youth – which was nearly everyone except him – also tried to further his education. Since April 2010, he's participated in the largest expansion of education coverage the M&G Media has ever undertaken. He says he's "soon" going on "real annual leave", which will entail "switching off this smart phone the M&G youth told me I needed".   Read more from David Macfarlane

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