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Stand-Up and be counted

Interviews, Topics March 7, 2012
Stand-Up and be counted

JOSIE LONG IS A COMEDIAN, ACTOR AND WRITER. SHE’S BEEN DOING STAND UP SINCE SHE WAS 16 AND IS THE PROUD OWNER OF PERRIER AND IF.COM BEST NEWCOMER AWARDS. DESPITE BEING KNOWN AS ONE OF THE FRIENDLIER COMEDIANS, SHE’S BARED HER TEETH IN HER LATEST ROLE AS DEFENDER OF THE ARTS DEGREE. SHE REVEALS TO US WHY A B.A. ISN’T JUST GOOD FOR THE CV, IT’S GOOD FOR THE SOUL.

JOSIE TALKS PASSIONATELY ABOUT WHAT UNIVERSITY CAN GIVE YOU, and she doesn’t just mean the piece of paper, “It completely shaped me, it taught me to read and think critically. I feel like it gave me the space to develop as a writer too. I also met loads of bright, funny people and got to write and perform with them all of the time.”

Despite stand-up comedy not having a graduate recruitment scheme, she does feel that her time studying gave her the skills to better pursue her career. “It also gave me the confidence to pursue standup without fear or compromise,” she says “There were so many confident people there it made me think ‘why shouldn’t I do what I’d like to do’”.

“Yes as I did stand up at 16,” Josie adds, “but I definitely wouldn’t be the same person I am now if I hadn’t gone to uni.”

This is undoubtedly part of the reason Josie has gone public in her defence of Arts degrees. Cuts to the Arts Council and other funding bodies, as well as higher fees are scaring some students away from studying Bas, and there’s a worry that that could affect how employers look at graduates who already have them.

Josie says she thinks the way people think about Arts degree is changing, “a lot of people now view education as a driver of short term profit, and the skills people want are those that aid this through business and industry.”

“Some of the most valuable and dynamic engines of the UK economy, like media, culture and information, are all underpinned by historically strong investment in the arts and humanities, we want to stand up for these subjects and make people realise how important they are in so many ways.”

Seeing a degree as solely preparing you for work misses out all the other reasons why you should go to university. “There are so many reasons why,” Josie enthuses. “Society benefits from having highly educated citizens. Plus, if you go, you have three amazing years of just developing as a person, of finding new things and mixing with new people – you can’t put a price on those things.” Ironically, these are all things that will benefit future employers as well. Although Josie’s reasons for taking pride in your degree are much simpler than that, “anyone who has a talent and passion for any subject should be encouraged to pursue those studies to the highest possible level.”

So what does she think graduates should be doing with their degrees? “It’s important to know what you can do with your degree, the different paths you can go down career wise and all of those options – as for what you should be doing with your degree, that’s entirely up to you.”

Josie’s never been content with doing things anything other than her way. When the likes of Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr were touting their cruel comedy on TV, she took a show called ‘trying is good’ to Edinburgh. This is why she wasn’t content to moan about Arts grads getting a raw deal and took action, launching Arts Emergency to support them.

“We’re a not-for-profit organisation working with talented students from lowerincome backgrounds as they study for arts and humanities degrees,” Josie explains. “We are going to be setting up a ‘graduate lottery’ and, hopefully, every month one person will win up to £16,000 paid off of their outstanding debt. That’s important as we think having large debts so young really impacts on your life choices.” Josie, along with fundraiser and her friend Neil Griffiths, decided that now was the time to give Arts graduate and students the support they need. “We’re working really hard right now to be ready for national launch in January 2012, it’s a genuine emergency for higher education in the arts and humanities.”

“An Arts degree is not a luxury” is the organisation’s slogan. The arts and humanities are important to every aspect of life and, whilst it not be the main reason for studying an arts degree, that includes employment. “Degrees in the Arts and Humanities provide society with adults who have skills to think critically and communicate sensitively and articulately,” explains Josie, adding, “On top of this you have the fact that BA grads have so many different skills that can be applied to any situation – the fact 43% of the Government Cabinet and 65% of the Shadow Cabinet are arts graduates shows how vital these subjects are.”

This is a serious topic but that doesn’t mean Josie’s trademark sense of fun is missing. It’s quite visible in ideas like their play on the old boys network, traditionally only available to Oxbridge, Etonian bankers. “Once we launch officially all arts graduates can join our ‘Alternative Alumni’, which is like our own democratic, creative response to the famous old boys’ network. It’s all about giving people the opportunity to share experience and knowledge.”

The organisation hopes to provide mentoring and support to students, particularly from lower-income backgrounds, as well as their ‘graduate lottery’. This isn’t just a great opportunity for graduates to benefit, but also for them to give back as Arts Emergency are looking for graduate speakers to visit schools and talk about the benefits of an arts or humanities degree.

CV-conscious graduates might see this as a chance to gain some public speaking experience but it’s also an opportunity to stand up and be counted in defence of the degree you worked hard to get. Josie is determined to make a stand in support of Arts degrees, and Arts Emergency does just that. But for her it seems to be part of something more integral, the idea that university is the beginning of a process not something that is over in three years. “Don’t compromise about what you’d like to do with your life and don’t make decisions because you are afraid,” is her advice, before adding “You will be ok.”

“Also, keep your subject with you for life, you don’t stop learning once you leave University, you are actually better placed to learn more and more and more.”

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