Louise Ogle, writing in the new edition of What do graduates do?, takes a look at employment, salary and type of work outcomes for humanities graduates
Humanities degrees have made headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2022. Attacks have come from those who believe the field is elitist and outdated1 and politicians have promised to 'phase out university degrees that do not improve students' earning potential'.2 Less directly, student numbers have fallen as a 'result of the systematic promotion of other fields, particularly, for instance, business management.'3
Data on graduate earnings, work and further study reveals that humanities graduates enter a very broad range of professions and are more inclined than average to carry on studying after graduation.
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What do graduates do? 2023
Work and study
The Graduate Outcomes survey results show the proportion of humanities graduates in full or part-time work across all subjects is below average (average 68.7%). This is balanced by above average percentages of graduates engaging in study, or work and study, across all humanities subjects. For example, 27.8% of history graduates were engaged in further study compared to the overall average of 19.8%. The humanities graduates that chose to study were most likely to be enrolled in a Masters course or a postgraduate diploma or certificate (including PGCE/PGDE).
Unemployment for humanities graduates was above the overall average rate of 5.9%, especially in English (7.3%), history (7.9%) and philosophy (7.3%). However, these rates were comparable with some science and social science subjects including physics (7.7%), law (7.4%) and IT (7.8%).
For humanities graduates, mean salaries were below the overall average of £24,974 (for those without significant further study). For example, the average salary for English literature graduates 15 months after graduation was £20,593, and for history graduates, £22,589. The jobs and sectors chosen by humanities graduates are likely to contribute to this lower earnings figure. In addition, the high proportion of females studying humanities subjects (for example 82% of English literature graduates in the survey were female, and 73% of languages graduates) exacerbates the adverse impact of the graduate gender pay gap.4
This breadth of options demonstrates the versatility of an education that teaches problem solving, critical thinking and social awareness.
Education was the most popular sector chosen by graduates from all humanities subjects in the Graduate Outcomes survey. Many graduates were also engaged in 'Public administration and defence; compulsory social security', and in a wide range of other sectors, from 'Human health activities' to 'Financial service activities, except insurance and pension funding' and 'Legal and accounting activities'.
This breadth of options demonstrates the versatility of an education that teaches problem solving, critical thinking and social awareness. It also highlights the potentially overwhelming choice faced by graduates, and therefore the benefit of work-related exploration and experiences while studying.
Skills and confidence
The Handshake 2032 report5 suggested that 'career confidence' drops throughout university, with 33% of students surveyed saying they feel very confident about their career prospects during year one, dropping to 31% in year two - and to 17% in year three. However, according to the British Academy's 2020 report Qualified for the Future6, skills such as 'communication, collaboration, research and analysis, independence, creativity and adaptability' give humanities graduates access to 'sectors which underpin the UK economy and are among the fastest growing'. Accessing these opportunities requires students to have both the necessary skills and crucially, the confidence to recognise their own employability.
- How the humanities became the new enemy within, The Guardian, 2020.
- Sunak vows to crack down on university degrees with low outcomes, The Independent, 2022.
- The place of the humanities in today’s knowledge society, Nature, 2019.
- Graduate Outcomes 2019/20: Summary Statistics - Summary, HESA, 2022.
- Careers 2032 Infographic, Handshake, 2022.
- Qualified for the Future: Quantifying demand for arts, humanities and social science skills, The British Academy, 2020.
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