A nation of enquiring minds: The British Academy publishes list of the UK’s favourite subjects

The humanities and social sciences are the UK’s first choice out of all university subjects, finds a poll published today by the British Academy on the launch of its annual Summer Showcase, a free public festival for curious minds.

Given the opportunity to start a university degree tomorrow, UK adults were most likely to choose a subject in the humanities and social sciences; 28% would opt for either the humanities (14%) or social sciences (14%), with engineering and technology (10%), mathematics and computing (10%) and medicine (9%) also popular choices.

English and history/classics topped a list of the nation’s favourite school subjects, chosen by 17% and 15% of respondents respectively, suggesting that people become interested in understanding elements of humanity, society and culture early on.

Early findings from analysis of new data demonstrates that arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) graduates look forward to strong employment prospects:

  • Employability: AHSS graduates are as likely to have a job as STEM graduates
  • Job security: AHSS graduates are just as resilient to economic downturns as STEM graduates and just as likely to avoid redundancy.
  • AHSS graduates are more flexible: they are more likely than STEM graduates to voluntarily change job or sector. 

Previous British Academy research has found that the skills in demand from employers were the same as those developed by studying the arts, humanities and social sciences: communication and collaboration; research and analysis; and independence and adaptability.

The British Academy’s second ever Summer Showcase aims to cater for this national interest. For two days (21-22 June), the UK’s academy for the humanities and social sciences opens its doors to the public for a free festival of ideas for curious minds. As well as 15 interactive exhibits, pop-up talks, workshops and performance, this year’s showcase features a Schools Day, curated by the historian and broadcaster Dan Snow, with over 300 school children and college students booked to attend.

Professor Sir David Cannadine, President of the British Academy, said:

“The humanities and social sciences help us to make sense of the world in which we live so it is little wonder that the desire to study these subjects at school and university is so great.

“We not only love the humanities and social sciences in the UK but we also excel at them. Graduates from these disciplines are highly employable and able to weather the changes of a fluctuating job market, while our researchers are disproportionately successful in international funding competitions, punching well above their weight on the world stage.

“As the national academy for the humanities and social sciences, our job is to proclaim the value of these disciplines and those who work within them – and our Summer Showcase does exactly that. It is a place where the public can meet the finest minds in academia, explore the latest research and discover more about what it means to be human.”

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2084 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2nd - 3rd May 2019.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+)

 

For the following questions, if you were home-schooled we are still interested in your opinion…

When you were at school, which ONE, if any, of the following subjects was your favourite?

 All

 Male

Female 

English (Language or Literature)

17%

9%

25%

History/ Classics

15%

15%

14%

Science (i.e. Biology, Chemistry, Physics)

13%

16%

9%

Mathematics

11%

13%

10%

Creative and Performing Arts (e.g. Fine Art, Music, Drama, Photography etc.)

8%

5%

10%

Geography

7%

10%

5%

None of these

6%

6%

7%

Design and Technology (e.g. Resistant Materials, Textiles, Woodwork, Mechanics, Food Technology etc.)

5%

7%

3%

Physical Education (e.g. PE, Games, Gymnastics etc.)

5%

6%

3%

Social Sciences (e.g. Business Studies, Media Studies, Economics, Sociology etc.)

5%

5%

5%

Foreign Languages (e.g. French, German, Spanish etc.)

4%

3%

6%

Don't know/ can't recall

4%

4%

3%

 

For the following question, please imagine that you were going to university to start an undergraduate degree tomorrow...

Which ONE, if any, of the following kinds of subject would you choose to study? (If you are currently studying at university, please think about what you would study if you could begin your undergraduate degree again)

 All

 Male

Female 

Humanities (e.g. History, Archaeology, Philosophy, Languages, Classics, Religious Studies etc.)

14%

11%

16%

Social Science (e.g. Law, Geography, Politics, Economics, Psychology, Sociology, Media Studies etc.)

14%

13%

16%

Engineering and Technology

10%

16%

3%

Mathematics and Computing

10%

15%

5%

Medicine and Health (e.g. Clinical Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry etc.)

9%

4%

14%

None of these

9%

7%

10%

Don't know

8%

7%

9%

Science (e.g. Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Sport Science etc.)

7%

9%

6%

Art (e.g. Music, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Fashion etc.)

6%

4%

8%

Business and Management

6%

8%

5%

Education and Teaching

4%

1%

7%

Architecture and Planning

3%

4%

2%

 

Early findings from econometric analysis by London Economics show:

    • AHSS graduates are just as employable as STEM graduates: both had an employment rate of 87% in 2017.
    • AHSS graduates are just as resilient to economic downturns as STEM grads and just as likely to avoid redundancy.
    • AHSS graduates are more flexible: they are more likely than STEM graduates to voluntarily change job or sector.

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