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Why social sciences matter

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Published August 2018

Social science graduates can be found across a range of occupations, and their knowledge and skills are invaluable to society for a number of reasons

Industries and occupations

A report by the Campaign for Social Science on the destinations of social science graduates stated that 'the idea that social science graduates work solely as social workers or teachers is shown to be unfounded'.1

Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) data shows that first degree social science graduates in 2016 entered roles in a range of sectors, the most popular including:

  • legal, social and welfare professionals (23.7%)
  • business, HR and finance professionals (17%)
  • retail, catering, waiting and bar staff (12.4%)
  • clerical, secretarial and numerical clerks (9.1%)
  • marketing, PR and sales professionals (7.2%).

Social sciences graduates are often represented across a variety of industries, such as the local and central government (15.1%), business and finance (14.6%), retail (12.3%), legal and accountancy (11.6%) and education (9.8%).

Skills

Social science graduates develop a range of transferable skills, highly valued in a number of fields. In his 2017 report, Dr Tim P Burton2 identified those which can be found amongst graduates from arts, humanities and social science disciplines. A few of these skills are:

  • communication
  • data/evidence analysis and evaluation
  • collaboration/teamwork
  • data/evidence gathering
  • independent work.

Graduates with a social science background often have an awareness of culture, diversity and are sensitive to the values of others.3 Diversity is an important factor in the modern workplace, helping to boost employee engagement and productivity.4 The knowledge social science graduates have of different perspectives and their understanding of various cultures could be advantageous to employers.

Their research often involves ethical consideration, for example, criminology graduates recognise 'a range of ethical problems associated with research', and sociologists can 'understand and apply the best ethical practice'.5 Knowledge of ethics is vital for research, guaranteeing a level of trust and respect between individuals.6 It can also ensure research is accurate and not misleading.7

The benefits of social science

  • Social science graduates make good leaders - research from the British Council showed that 44% of global leaders in 2015 had a social sciences degree.8 It appears that the skills and knowledge acquired through social sciences degrees are beneficial in preparing graduates for leadership roles.
  • The UK produces world class social science research - The most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment in 2014 highlighted the high quality standard of social science research by UK institutions, revealing the UK as home to top-ranking institutions such as the London School of Economics (LSE).9 It is also a large contributor to the global output of academic papers, with the UK's research being cited internationally by social scientists.10
  • Social science can help support technological developments - For example, criminologists have collaborated with engineers and manufacturers to tackle car theft by using their knowledge to help design cars that are more difficult to steal.11 An understanding of our society and human behaviour is important to ensure that such developments are possible.12
  • It improves our lives - Demographic change, the growing demand for health services and the rising costs of living are all set to put pressure on our society. Knowledgeable social sciences graduates will be crucial for raising the quality of our health services and ensuring the UK population is healthy. 13
  • Social science graduates are important for the education sector - The 2017 British Academy Right Skills report found that 15% of social sciences graduates enter the educational sector 3.5 years after graduation.14 Education is fundamental for the growth and development of our society, ensuring future generations have the right skills and education to thrive in the labour market.15

The social sciences are vital to a healthy modern society. They help us to understand our world and the changes needed to tackle climate change, improve healthcare, understand big data and ensure fair access to education.16 It is important that the social sciences continue to receive investment and their significance should be promoted alongside the natural sciences.

Notes

1. What Do Social Science Graduates Do?, Campaign for Social Science, 2013.

2. An analysis of the generic and subject specific skills in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences based on 36 QAA Subject Benchmark Statements, Dr Tim P Burton, 2017.

3. Ibid.

4. Diversity and inclusion: The reality gap, Deloitte, accessed 7th June 2018.

5. An analysis of the generic and subject specific skills in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences based on 36 QAA Subject Benchmark Statements, Dr Tim P Burton, 2017, p. 17.

6. Ethcis in Primary Research, Equality Challenge Unit, 2017, p. 3.

7. Ibid, p. 3.

8. Educational Pathways of Leaders, British Council, 2017.

9. The business of people: the significance of social science over the next decade, Campaign for Social Science, 2015.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Annual Report 2015-2016, Campaign for Social Science, 2016.

14. The Right Skills, British Academy, 2017.

15. Ibid, p. 44.

16. Annual Report 2015-2016, Campaign for Social Science, 2016.

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