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First ever in-depth study on why we need arts, humanities and social science graduates

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The British Academy has launched a new flagship project to provide evidence for why arts, humanities, and social science (AHSS) graduates, and the skills they learn, are vital to economy and cultural life, in the UK and worldwide. In an age of rapid and far-reaching social and technological change, the world is increasingly interconnected and complex. This project will display, for the first time, how AHSS skills can help us cope and adapt in a changing world and contribute to society individually and collectively.

This is the first time a project of this scale has been undertaken, asking the academic, business, cultural and heritage sectors: what do we mean by ‘skills’, and what contribution do individuals with AHSS skills make to society and the economy? What skills do employers want? And what skills will be needed in the future? Through this project, the Academy hopes to facilitate a national debate about the nature and value of these skills, showing not just the cultural value of arts, humanities and social sciences research and study, but crucially, their economic value.

AHSS students make up 55% of university students in the UK, totalling around 1.25 million students. They study subjects ranging from fine arts and dance, to modern languages, law and economics[1]. Graduates possess a wide range of skills, from creativity to problem-solving, influencing, persuading and negotiating and navigating uncertainty - often matching the skills in demand from employers. Graduates in these areas are employed across the economy, from financial services to museums, galleries, and libraries and three years after graduation, 78% of AHSS students were in further study or sustained employment with average earnings of £28,300 per annum[2].

In 2015, cultural organisations and practitioners contributed £27bn to the UK economy, employing around 642,000 people[3]. A British Council study showed that over 50% of professional leaders in 30 countries studied humanities or social sciences at university. Among young professional leaders and politicians, the proportion is even higher[4].

Professor Sir Ian Diamond FBA, Chair of the British Academy Skills project, said: “Despite the uncertain future ahead for the economy and labour market, high-skilled jobs will become increasingly critical to the UK’s success. From anthropological research helping us navigate how to contain the Ebola virus, to understanding how art history and literature can help with post-traumatic rehabilitation. We already know that AHSS research contributes to wider societal issues and understanding, but with increased university fees, parents and students expect even more than before to know what skills they will gain through their degree and how these will benefit not just individuals in life beyond higher education, but the UK and global economy”

Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said at the project launch: “My dad told me I'd be cleaning toilets for a living if I did a history degree.  Little did he think that the tourist industry which now employs me would be desperate for history graduates. The perception that arts and social sciences are soft, mushy and useless, is just plain wrong.” 

Organisations and individuals are invited to respond to the call for evidence here: www.britishacademy.ac.uk/skills.  


[1] HESA data.

[2] Department for Education Longitudinal Education Outcomes data.

[3] Department for Culture, Media and Sport data.

[4] British Council / Ipsos.

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