The University of Oxford commissioned a study into the graduate careers of its humanities students to challenge the government’s recent promotion of STEM subjects, a policy that implies the humanities are ‘of secondary importance to the economy’.
Collating the career developments of roughly 11,000 alumni who joined Oxford between 1960 and 1989, Humanities Graduates and the British Economy: The Hidden Impact found that humanities graduates shifted from careers such as teaching to those in emerging UK industrial sectors, particularly finance, law and the media.
Relying on salary data from graduates’ jobs six months after leaving university is ‘not a sound basis’ for judging the long-term economic impact of humanities degrees, the study argues.
Shearer West, head of humanities at Oxford, says: ‘I get very concerned when I see pupils in schools being advised not to study humanities because they won’t get a job. It’s the cultural perception and it gets embedded without any evidence.’
The study concludes: ‘Humanities graduate employment expanded rapidly into key growing economic sectors in advance of government policy that encouraged these sectors. Rising rates of employment by sector in some degree subjects not only track but exceed increases in [gross domestic product] contributed by those sectors.’
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