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Rethinking employability for humanities students

June 2019

Humanities students can struggle to see how their skills translate into the workplace and sometimes opt for postgraduate study to delay their career decision making - so what's the best way to engage this group in employability activities?

Key findings


  • Humanities students develop research and analytical skills, critical thinking skills and communication.
  • They demonstrate empathy and creativity.
  • Humanities students can lack self-awareness of the skills gained during their degree.
  • They may also then struggle to translate how these skills can support them in the workplace.


  • Humanities students are starting to ask more career related questions during their university open days prior to the commencement of their degree.
  • Students are beginning to engage with employability activities at an earlier stage in their degree.
  • Generally, if work is not assessed and does not count towards their final grade, there is little engagement with these tasks. Engagement with employability activities can sometimes suffer as a consequence of this.
  • There is increased concern over repaying university tuition fees. This has led to an earlier engagement with employability. Some lecturers feel this angst can affect student performance and the overall student experience.
  • Engagement with optional placement modules and sandwich year placements is low. Lecturers feel this is because students struggle to identify a link between their degree subject and relevant opportunities available to them.


  • An increased number of humanities students are now taking up postgraduate study. This may be a result of the newly introduced Masters loans meaning students can access Masters study more easily.
  • Around one quarter of English graduates in the UK who took up further study enrolled onto a qualification in teachers training. Humanities lecturers believe that a career in teaching is a big motivation for studying a humanities degree, and it is one of the few careers that allows humanities graduates to 'keep doing' their subject.
  • Some humanities lecturers believe that their students opt for postgraduate study as a way to delay their decision-making process, because they are unsure about their career options and effectively decide not to decide yet.

Employability approach

  • Compulsory placement modules and improved quality of placement support.
  • The study discusses the need for humanities students to conclude that further research could be undertaken regarding cross-faculty partnerships, in order to provide students on non-vocational degree programmes with vocational and technical skills prior to considering post-graduate qualifications.
  • It also explores how careers services could further support humanities students to become more adaptable and enterprising, and to help them with their career decision-making skills at an earlier stage.
  • Some meaningful and impactful employability support has taken place informally during personal tutorials with humanities students. This has taken place where conversations on academic performance, engagement and concern over fees have crossed-over with discussions on employability, part-time work and career planning. This suggests there is room to conduct further research into how careers services currently work with personal tutor programmes and what more could be done to provide a more holistic approach to supporting undergraduates on their student journey.

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Humanities academics’ perceptions of graduate employability

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Download PDF file Humanities academics’ perceptions of graduate employability

About this report

Humanities academics' perceptions of graduate employability was a small-scale qualitative study that utilised semi-structured in-depth interviews with humanities academics who teach undergraduate degree programmes at a post-92 English university. The research gives insight into humanities academics' perceptions, experiences, values and understandings, as well as their expectations relating to the graduate employability of humanities students.

This study was undertaken as part of a Masters dissertation on careers guidance and development with the University of the West of Scotland.

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