A study by Dr Philip Kreager, Senior Research Fellow in Human Sciences at Somerville College, has found that Humanities graduates played a large and growing role in employment sectors which brought about growth in the UK economy in the 1970s and 1980s.

The report, commissioned by Oxford University’s Humanities Division, found that numbers of Oxford graduates of English, History, Philosophy, Classics and Modern Languages employed in key economic growth sectors of finance, media, legal services and management rose substantially between 1960 and 1989. By the end of the period, 16-20% were employed in these sectors.

Humanities Graduates and the British Economy: The Hidden Impact is believed to be the first report of its kind as it evaluates the contribution of the study of the humanities to the economy by looking at career paths and mid- and end-career destinations of graduates, rather than the three years immediately after graduation as used by the government’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The research has involved using the University of Oxford alumni database to examine the employment history of 11,000 Oxford humanities graduates who matriculated between 1960 and 1989 to give full career paths to track, and has also involved focused in-depth interviews with 50 alumni, thereby engaging quantitative and qualitative measures of humanities graduates’ impact on the British economy and society.

Professor Shearer West, Head of Humanities at the University of Oxford, said: “Although it is widely recognised that the humanities have intrinsic value as well as utility, the need to demonstrate the impact and value of the study of humanities to the economy and society has intensified during the recent economic crisis.

“Our research project suggests that the long-established system of humanities-based higher education in Oxford has proven highly responsive to national economic needs. We have found that the substantial increase in humanities graduates employed in these growth fields often preceded the shift in government prioritising of these sectors.”

Dr Kreager was aided in his research for the project by a number of Somervillians. Human Sciences graduates Katie Borg (2008), Elinor McDaniell (2009), Julia Koskella (2007) and Hugo Ernest-Jones (2006) conducted many of the interviews, and Hannah Knight (2005) assisted with some of the statistical analysis. Hannah is now a Research Fellow at the Office for Research and Clinical Audit (ORCA), a collaboration between the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Professor West hopes this important research will encourage schoolchildren who enjoy a humanities subject, and their parents and teachers, that studying the humanities is not an obstacle to employment.

She said: “There is sometimes a perception that even if a pupil is passionate about classics or history, they will limit their job prospects if they study such subjects at university. Our research shows that humanities students can go on to work in a wide range of sectors and contribute, whether that is as a journalist, a lawyer, an asset manager or a teacher.”

Read the full report online.

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