The British Academy responds to new UCAS subject data

4 Feb 2021

Reacting to new subject data released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the British Academy warns that while there has been a long-term decline in both applications and acceptances in the humanities, the reality behind the eye-catching stats is more complicated.

Hetan Shah, Chief Executive of the British Academy, said: “Social Science, Humanities and Arts (SHAPE) subjects remain a great option for students looking to forge fulfilling, secure and well-paid careers. Our Qualified for the Future report shows that SHAPE graduates are just as employable as their counterparts in STEM – according to the 2017 Labour Force Survey, 88% of HSS graduates and 89% of STEM graduates were employed that year – and can move sectors and jobs without suffering wage penalties. Meanwhile, of the ten fastest growing sectors in the economy before the pandemic, eight employ more SHAPE graduates than from other disciplines. In fact, SHAPE graduates are the backbone of the UK economy, with the majority going on to work in the UK services sector – which accounts for 81% of the UK’s total economic output– or in fulfilling and socially valuable roles in the public sector, like social work and teaching.”

He added: “Today’s figures concern students who started their courses in the extraordinary circumstances of 2020 when, due to the A levels grading crisis and the fact that students were unable to work or go travelling, universities have ended up taking many more students than in the past. The result was a 5.4% increase in the overall first year cohort between 2019 and 2020, compared to typical growth of around 1% year to year. Most of this growth has been in medicine and related subjects like nursing but only time will tell if this is a one-off effect.

“It is true that there has been a long-term decline in both applications and acceptances in the humanities – the declining numbers of history, English and modern language students are indeed concerning, and the British Academy is working with stakeholders across the sector to understand the reasons for these trends and identify what can be done to reverse them. Yet many SHAPE subjects are thriving. Education, business studies and law continue to see steady growth while creative arts also grew in popularity between 2019 and 2020, after declines earlier in the decade.”

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