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It has taken Iain Lees-Galloway, Palmerston North MP for the Labour Party, a few years to complete a Bachelor of Arts alongside his busy career – and he credits the degree with contributing much to his success in politics and public service.
Mr Lees-Galloway will graduate in Massey University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ ceremony in Palmerston North on Friday. He is an ardent advocate of the value of the humanities and social sciences, and says studying in these disciplines “opened up the idea for me that what you are interested in and enjoy doing could also be a career”.
That’s a message he’s keen to spread to anyone considering doing a BA who might be discouraged because of the flawed perception the degree is of no use in the job market.
“The confidence I got from doing what I loved and succeeding in it shaped the direction of my life,” he says.
For current or prospective students who are hearing the negative messages, he argues, “there are so many opportunities out there that spring from doing a BA with the so-called ‘soft skills’.”
Good communication skills, and the ability to interpret complex and copious information in the age of mega data and ‘noise’ on the internet, social media and in 24/7 news cycles is critical, he says.
“The BA teaches you all of these things. It’s highly relevant to the work place of today. I use these critical analytical skills everyday in my work.”
As a school leaver he initially wanted to get into vet school, but just missed out. So he enrolled in a Bachelor of Science instead. However, that didn’t feel right, so he took time off to work in medical laboratory before deciding to enrol in a BA at Massey.
His parents were aghast and his mother, in particular, “was appalled”, he recalls, because they didn't think a BA offered any job prospects.
But he stuck with his gut feelings – he had always enjoyed English, French, history and geography at school. And like a lot of young people in his teens he was searching for the right pathway.
He has studied part-time since 2004, and in 2005 was student president of the Massey University Students’ Association, before hitting the pause button on study to work full-time for the Nurses’ Organisation. By that time, Mr Galloway had married Clare Lees – a fellow student. The couple now have three children.
Mr Lees-Galloway has represented Palmerston North in Parliament since 2008, and is Labour’s spokesperson for Workplace Relations and Safety, and for Immigration.
Two years ago, he felt it was time to tackle unfinished business and do the five papers he needed to complete his BA with a major in English, which he did by distance study. These included creative writing papers – travel, creative non-fiction and life writing. “I did that on purpose because communication and writing is a big part of my role. Particularly the non-fiction writing!”
He credits former lecturer and media studies tutor in the School of English and Media Studies, Graham Slater, as an inspiration. “It was Graham’s passion for his subject and the interest and enthusiasm in his students’ learning that really inspired me.”
The diverse experiences of university life – social, political and academic – also enriched him and prepared him for his career, he says.
Mr Lees-Galloway hopes societal ignorance about the worth of a BA will be challenged, and that the bias towards STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects won’t obscure what a degree in the arts can offer.
“It’s about STEAM now – STEM plus [A for] arts,” he says. “Communication, and the ability to intelligently analyse and make sense of complex information are vital if you want to be an effective politician.”
Although it was a struggle at times juggling his political commitments and study, he is pleased he’ll be crossing the stage as a graduate this year. And he may consider postgraduate study in the future, being a firm believer in lifelong learning and of the need “to continually be refreshed and renewed by new knowledge”.
Created: 24/11/2016 | Last updated: 25/11/2016
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