The price of humanities and communications courses would more than double under the plan, setting full-time students back as much as $14,500 a year instead of $6804.
But English and language courses, which often fall under the Arts degree umbrella, will have their fees reduced by 46 per cent.
Mr Tehan said the government was not discouraging people from studying arts but rather wanted students to pick up skills in other disciplines and not “silo” their degree.
“Think also about your job prospects at the end of your degree. So if you want to do history, think about doing teaching as well so you can teach history. If you’re wanting to do philosophy, which will be great for your critical thinking, also think about doing IT so you can help in a new and emerging area,” he said.
“What we don’t want to see is students entering the higher education system, undertaking study and then not having the skills that they will need to take these jobs of the future.”
Mr Tehan, who studied a Bachelor of Arts, said he wished he had done a language or IT course as part of his degree and would have been encouraged to do so by fee incentives.
But those who work in the humanities aren’t convinced. Clare Wright, a professor of history at La Trobe University and the author of books including The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, said the changes appeared to be “ideological, opportunistic [and] punitive”.
“[The] proposals threaten to turn the study of history, politics, anthropology and philosophy into a vanity practice,” Ms Wright said.
“An indulgence of the elite rather than promoting the value of liberal arts training as the basis for any professional or creative practice.
“Aren’t we supposed to be the clever country? Talk about a dumbass country.”
Two-time Miles Franklin Award-winning writer Michelle de Kretser said the changes were an announcement to the world that Australia did not value the study of humanities and would inparticular place historians in the firing line.
“Australian historians are still doing marvellous work at uncovering uncomfortable truths about Australia’s past,” Ms de Kretser said. “The study and writing of history in this country has produced very tangible results and helped more than anything, I think, to open Australia’s eyes to what has gone on here and the government can’t stomach it.”
Patrick Stokes, an associate professor of philosophy at Deakin University, said now more than ever philosophy was needed to help make sense of a “post-truth” world.
“The present moment is throwing up more and more questions humanities researchers grapple with every day,” he said.
The Quality Indicators for Teaching and Learning 2019 survey found almost 84 per cent of humanities, culture and social science graduates were employed upon graduation. YouTube’s chief executive Susan Wojcicki studied history and literature at university while Stewart Butterfield, the founder of workplace communications platform Slack, has a degree in philosophy.
Former Australian prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Julia Gillard both graduated university with a Bachelor of Arts, while Kevin Rudd has a degree in Chinese studies, a branch of the humanities.
Australian Academy of Humanities president Joy Damousi said “broad-based education” had made the Australian tertiary education system one of the best in the world.
“The world can’t just be STEM. It has to be a balance. Making [the humanities] prohibitive and so expensive is going to have short and long-term effects on our workforce and our society in general.”
Broede Carmody is a culture reporter at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.