Tom Lyscom


The Chair of the Political Studies Association, Professor Roger Awan-Scully, welcomes the publication by the British Academy of its report ‘Qualified for the Future: Quantifying demand for arts, humanities and social science skills’

The PSA's full statement is available here. Tom Lyscom, Senior Policy Adviser at the British Academy, comments on the key findings of the report. 

The current coronavirus emergency brings into sharp relief the value of all expertise. Not just in ‘hard sciences’ but in all spheres of knowledge and skills. This includes applying social, political and economic theory to make the ‘tragic choices’ needed to respond to the pandemic.

In a new report by the British Academy, Qualified for The Future, we have taken an objective look at the contribution of all Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) subjects to tackling global risks, but also their broad value to individuals, employers and the UK economy. Some of those results are presented here.

According to regular news, blogs and sometimes even policy, it might seem that STEM subjects are the only path to career success, and that the future only needs scientists. In Qualified for the Future we show that pursuing AHSS subjects not only gives individual competitive employment outcomes, but the skills and knowledge gained are in high demand by employers, help drive economic growth, and play essential part of wider society.


AHSS Graduates are in High Demand

The evidence we looked at from the Labour Force Survey shows that employment rates of AHSS graduates are very similar to those of STEM graduates.

(Employment rate of graduates in the UK workforce by subject group, 2017)


This isn’t surprising. Students of all subjects develop broad, employability skills such as communication, collaboration, analysis and decision making, which open up a wide range of options. According to the Institute of Student Employers, only 14% of graduate employers specify a subject when hiring and few subjects aim to prepare students for specific career paths.


AHSS Graduates are Resilient and Adaptable 

People who have pursued arts, humanities and social science disciplines such as politics possess strong, competitive resilience.

Applying statistical modelling to 20 years of the Labor Force Survey, covering the 2008 financial crisis and Dot-Com bubble, we found that graduates of all disciplines are equally resilient to economic shocks. AHSS graduates had the same outcomes as STEM graduates as the economy expanded or contracted. This affirms that those with AHSS knowledge and skills should be resilient to the current economic downturn, and will be a key part of the recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.

Part of this resilience may derive from the adaptability AHSS graduates demonstrate. Both the Labour Force Survey and Destination of Leavers of HE (DLHE) survey show that these grads are employed in a far greater range of industries and roles than STEM counterparts. Further, AHSS graduates are more likely to move between sectors and roles, indicating they have many options available to them.


(Employment by sector of AHSS first degree graduates in the total UK workforce 1997-2017)


Looking to the future of employment and skills it is likely many roles and industries will change, perhaps rapidly. There is also uncertainty over what these changes will be, therefore being able to thrive across a range or industries and roles will be increasingly important.


Show me the money! - AHSS graduates are as valuable to employers

It has frequently been claimed that STEM graduates earn more that their AHSS peers, perhaps up to 20%. But these studies usually only look at starting salaries, or early careers. By examining all ages and all levels of seniority within the UK workforce, our new analysis shows that gross hourly pay of AHSS graduates is almost identical to that of STEM graduates, and this has been the case for 20 years.


(Average gross hourly pay, AHSS and STEM grads and postgrads, 1999-2017)


AHSS Graduates Underpin Many of the Largest and Fastest-Growing Sectors

Our analysis also examined the latest projections of UK industry growth to 2024, and linked this to the participation of AHSS graduates in these sectors. Of the ten fastest growing sectors, eight employ more graduates from AHSS than from other disciplines.


(Industry sectors by current size, AHSS participation, and projected growth)


Being Objective About Subjects

The arts, humanities and social sciences help us to make sense of the world in which we live. These subjects give us the tools to examine and explain human behaviour, understand how society functions, learn from the past, apply those lessons to the present, and analyse the drivers and implications of a changing world.

It shouldn’t be surprising that those with AHSS skills play vital roles in society and are in high demand across the UK’s economic sectors. This new report, Qualified for the Future aims to be objective and use evidence to reveal the multifaceted picture of the value of AHSS skills.


Author Biographies

Tom Lyscom is a Senior Policy Adviser at the British Academy working on Higher Education and Skills policy. He has advised on other future skills research including at the Department of Health Horizon 2035: Health and Care Futures initiative and the London First Skills Commission.