Future-proof grads: new study pinpoints arts, humanities and social science graduates’ skills

27 Nov 2017

The British Academy has today published the first ever evidence of the skills that the 1.25m students who study arts, humanities and social science (AHSS) develop through their degrees.  AHSS graduates make up 55% of all university students, but to date it has been unclear which skills they develop and where they work after university.

Researchers found that the skills in demand from employers were the same as those developed by studying the arts, humanities and social sciences:

  • communication and collaboration;

  • research and analysis;

  • independence and adaptability.

With the type of jobs likely to change in the future, the research showed that flexible and adaptable graduates, many of whom have AHSS degrees, were highly valued by employers, even when their degree was unrelated to the business.

The Right Skills: Celebrating skills in the arts, humanities and social sciences also investigates the contribution that AHSS graduates make to the economy. It found that they deploy their core skills in a wide range of jobs, from web design to the civil service, teaching to financial services. 58% of Chief Executives of FTSE 100 Index Companies have studied AHSS, either at undergraduate or postgraduate level.

And nearly 80% of the UK economy derives from the services sector, which includes legal services, accountancy, hospitality, retail and advertising – all of which depend on the skills and knowledge of AHSS disciplines.

The British Academy is the national body for the humanities and social sciences. The report published today is the first in a research programme on skills running until 2020.

Chair of the British Academy project and Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, Professor Sir Ian Diamond FBA FRSE FAcSS said:

“The question every arts, humanities and social sciences student has heard at least once is: ‘what are you going to do with that?’ Today our research proves that these graduates have the potential to adapt to almost any career in an increasingly globalised and uncertain world.

“Our research has defined for the first time the skills shared by arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) graduates, and looks at their careers in almost every sector of our economy, from the booming creative industries to financial services.

“The arts, humanities and social sciences are a strong choice for any prospective student – these subjects create well-rounded and adaptable graduates, equipped with the skills employers demand for the twenty-first century workplace.”

Dame Una O'Brien, Member of the British Academy steering group, who served as Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health as well as on the Civil Service Talent Board until 2016 said:  

"The findings of today's report will be of great help to young people in working out what to study at A-level and university. The report throws a bright light on the skills gained from studying a subject across the arts, humanities and social sciences and shows how strongly these skills are valued by employers. 

“The Civil Service in particular needs people who can use evidence and insight to address complex problems; who can work well in teams and who can relate to the problems faced by communities across the UK and internationally. Now more than ever, skills rooted in study of the humanities, arts or social sciences are an excellent foundation for a career in government and the wider public sector."

Philippa de Villoutreys, Head of Talent at the Bank of England said: 

‘While many might think you need to have studied economics to work at the Bank, this is not the case – only half of our last intake of graduates did. We recruit from a range of disciplines including humanities as we value the diversity of thought and various skills these graduates can bring. Having diverse teams ultimately helps us to make better decisions and encourages debate. The skills of arts, humanities and social science graduates are valued by employers such as the Bank and the wider financial sector, and as we’ve seen in this research, are adaptable to a range of different roles and industries.”

Professor Karen O'Brien, Head of the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford said:

"We warmly welcome the report's articulation of the higher level skills and competencies which arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) bring to the national workplace. The report demonstrates the valuable ability of AHSS graduates to evaluate ambiguous information and to seek nuanced solutions in contexts of social and cultural complexity. At a time when many jobs are likely to be lost through automation, the communicative and analytical skills imparted by AHSS degrees may become more relevant than ever."


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