Higher education is historically rooted in a model of learning based in the Humanities in which literate, critical, and communication skills are a recognised public good. These skills and the public values they serve – such as the capacity for making informed choices, for evaluating evidence and argument, for creative thought and problem-solving –are widely recognised as much more than economic means and ends.
However, the need to demonstrate the impact and value of Humanities higher education to society and the economy has intensified during the recent period of economic crisis. It is important to consider not only the intrinsic value of Humanities in higher education, but also the ways in which these subject areas are responsive to economic change and how the knowledge and skills they provide make a major contribution to the UK economy and society.
The lack of substantial data and evidence on the contribution of Humanities graduates to the economy and society needs to be addressed. The statistical profile of Humanities graduates, combined with in-depth interviews on their life courses, as presented in this report, are steps toward providing this evidence base.
The evidence collected here demonstrates that the long- established system of Humanities-based higher education in Oxford has proven highly responsive to national economic needs. While this is a pilot project focusing on a single university and restricted to Humanities graduates, it provides a methodology that could lead to additional studies of other UK universities as well as graduate contributions in the sciences and social sciences.
The research project consists of a quantitative study of 11,000 individual Humanities graduates who matriculated at University of Oxford between 1960 and 1989 (Part I) and a qualitative study tracking the lifelong career history up to the present day of a sample of those graduates (Part II).
The period chosen encompasses major structural changes in the British economy.
The length of the period and the time elapsed since their graduation allows for a better understanding of employment trends than immediate graduate destination surveys do.