Arts, humanities and social science graduates resilient to economic downturns

7 May 2020

Graduates in the arts, humanities and social sciences are just as employable as their counterparts in STEM subjects, fuel some of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK and enjoy rewarding careers in a wide range of sectors. These are the key findings of a new British Academy report examining the employment prospects of graduates from different subject groups.

Based on analysis by London Economics, ‘Qualified for the Future: Quantifying demand for arts, humanities and social science skills’ provides quantitative evidence for the employment benefits of studying the arts, humanities and social sciences at university.

The report finds that:

  • Graduates of arts, humanities and social sciences are just as resilient to economic upheaval as other graduates and are just as likely to remain employed as STEM graduates during downturns
  • Looking at the total UK workforce, arts, humanities and social science graduates are just as likely to be employed as their STEM counterparts; the 2017 Labour Force Survey shows that 88% of HSS graduates and 89% of STEM graduates were employed in that year
  • Of the ten fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, eight employ more graduates from the arts, humanities and social science than other disciplines. They include the well-paid information and communication industry and finance sector
  • HSS graduates are the backbone of the economy, with the majority working in the UK services sector. The service sector accounts for 81% of the UK’s total economic output and is second only to the US in export value globally
  • HSS graduates will be essential to fill in the workforce gaps of the future, particularly those studying fine arts, history and archaeology, philosophy and theology, geography, sociology and anthropology
  • While the health sector is the dominant destination for recent STEM graduates, HSS graduates choose to work in a wide range of sectors across the economy, including financial services, education, social work, the media and creative industries.

Qualified for the Future follows The Right Skills, which identified a core set of skills gained from the study of arts, humanities and social sciences.

Hetan Shah, Chief Executive of the British Academy, said:

“The evidence speaks for itself: arts, humanities and social science graduates are as employable as any other graduates and fare particularly well in times of economic decline.

“We are increasingly living in a knowledge-based, creative and services economy. Arts, humanities and social science subjects are giving students the skills they need for the future marketplace. These graduates’ flexible, adaptable skills make them extremely resilient in the face of downturns and well-equipped to adapt to the technological changes in the job market. They go on to enjoy exciting and fulfilling careers in a variety of sectors including in those of enormous social value, for instance in the civil service, in teaching and social work.

“School students who are considering what they may wish to go on and study at university should feel reassured by this evidence that they can study subjects that they love and go on to have great career prospects.”

Professor Sir Ian Diamond FBA FRSE FAcSS, Chair of the British Academy Skills Programme, said:

“The skills developed through the arts, humanities and social sciences are extremely valuable both to the UK economy, and to individuals. Graduates in these disciplines enjoy strong employment prospects, with competitive wages and a wide variety of career options. They also underpin some of the fastest growing sectors of the UK economy, working in tandem with our outstanding STEM graduates. At a time when many jobs are likely to change or even be lost through automation, the skills gained through arts, humanities and social science degrees are evidently more useful than ever and are central to addressing global challenges.”

Louise Farrar, director of student recruitment at PwC UK, said: 

"PwC is one of the UK's largest graduate recruiters and, for the majority of our roles, we recruit from any degree discipline. For us, agility, critical thinking and relationship building are some of the key attributes we look for in graduates, and our selection process is designed to assess an individual's potential against the PwC Professional framework.

“To date 16% of our graduate hires for our 2020 intake have studied or are studying an Arts & Humanities or Social Sciences degree. Another point of note is the high percentage of females graduating in these subjects - making this a great pool of talent for businesses looking to diversify their teams.  Of course, degree and other qualifications are usually just the start of continuous learning and upskilling for today's digital world."

Hasan Bakhshi, Director of the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) and Executive Director of Creative Economy and Data Analytics at Nesta, said:

“Previous studies suggest that individuals will need to manage frequent change and high uncertainty if they are to thrive in the labour market of the future. This timely report from the British Academy reviews the many ways in which a Humanities and Social Sciences education equips young people to do so. Consistent with this, it provides important new evidence that these graduates in the UK are already more likely than STEM graduates to change sector and role voluntarily and without wage penalty.”

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For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 07500 010 432.

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