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Don't Abandon Classics In Order To Get A Good Job, Says Oxford

11/07/2013 06:58 | Updated 11 July 2013
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Children who enjoy history or classics should not feel they have to abandon the subjects in order to get a good job, research has suggested.

Opting to study humanities subjects at university instead of science and maths does not limit a student's employment prospects, according to researchers from Oxford University.

A new report published by the leading institution reveals that rising numbers of humanities graduates have been employed in key areas such as finance and law in the last 50 years, it found.

The study examined the employment history of around 11,000 students who started humanities degrees at Oxford between 1960 and 1989, as well as conducted in-depth interviews with a small sample of these graduates.

The findings show a "significant" increase in the numbers of English, history, philosophy, classics and modern languages graduates who went on to work in "key economic growth sectors" including finance, media, law and management.

By the end of this period around 16%-20% of these graduates were employed in these sectors, it says.

Professor Shearer West, head of humanities at Oxford University, said that during the recent economic crisis there has been an increasing need to demonstrate the impact and value of studying humanities.

The study suggests that degrees in humanities subjects have enabled graduates to work in jobs needed in the economy.

It comes at a time when science and maths-based subjects are attracting more funding and support because they are seen as required by industry.

Prof West 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."

She suggested that children, as well as their parents and teachers, should not see studying the humanities as a barrier to a good job.

"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."

In a foreword to the report, Oxford vice-chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton said humanities education "is of great value beyond academia" and gives a "special grounding" for a wide range of careers.

Humanities subjects give graduates key skills required by businesses such as communication, critical thinking and problem solving, the study argues.

Prof West said they had conducted interviews which show that employers are looking for candidates with "succinct and persuasive written and verbal communication skills and the capacity for critical analysis and synthesis".

She added: "Anyone who has written a critical analysis of Plato's Republic in less than 1,000 words, or defended their interpretation of the French revolution under questioning from a top historian in a class or tutorial, will know that studying the humanities gives you an excellent grounding in all of these skills."

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