Opinion There's great news this week for young persons who'd like to get a good job one day but don't want to do much work at university. A report just out says that actually there's no need to get a tough degree in real science, maths, engineering, medicine, IT or similar - in fact, you don't want one of those. What you want, apparently, is a degree in one of the "social sciences".
With a nice sociable degree in psychology, sociology, politics or similar, it seems, you're actually more likely to be employed a few years after you graduate than if you'd sweated to get a sci/tech/eng/maths (STEM) one. We are told this in a document (pdf) titled What Do Social Science Graduates Do? by professors Cary Cooper (a psychologist) and James Wilsdon (who is prof of "science and democracy", having reached this eminence via a first degree in philosophy and theology, followed by a master's degree in sustainable development and a doctorate in technology policy).
Brilliant news, this. Why toil and graft learning difficult subjects packed with hard maths, when you could spend a pleasant few years having nearly as easy a time as a liberal-arts student, noodling around doing sociology or something, and then stroll into a top job?
And it will be a top job, you won't be forced to be a teacher or similar. Cooper and Wilsdon insist:
The idea that social science graduates work solely as social workers or teachers is shown to be unfounded. What this report shows instead is that employers across many areas of employment, in both the public and private sectors, are keen to recruit social science graduates because they have the skills of analysis and communication that our economy and society needs ...
Unfortunately, the report is about as useful in real life as most other products of the nation's soft-studies departments. Firstly, in order to get their vaguely positive results, the two profs have not only included economics along with the true soft studies - but also law, architecture, town planning and even business studies. They do reluctantly include education, but then they exclude it when making their assertion that studying the soft subjects doesn't mean being doomed to a future in teaching or social work:
After discounting graduates with degrees specifically in education (of whom 78.7% enter employment in the same industry), a smaller proportion of social scientists is employed in education (10.4%) than either STEM (14.3%) or arts-humanities graduates (25.4%). [Our emphasis]
The proportion of social science graduates employed in ‘human health and social work activities’ (12.6%) is less than half that of STEM graduates (34.2%) even after discounting those who studied medicine or dentistry [but not the far more numerous group who studied "subjects allied to medicine", who account for the great bulk of non-medicine/dentistry STEM graduates employed in this field - naughty professors!] ...
If you delve into the data on which the report is based, you find that architecture students tend to become architects (or anyway go into the construction industry), law students tend to become lawyers, business studies students become managers and businessmen. So within the two profs' rather broad definition of "social sciences", it's true, many students go on to get top jobs and are not forced to become teachers and social workers.
But the truth is that if you get a first degree in one of the real soft-studies fields - psychology, sociology, philosophy, politics, geography etc etc - the single likeliest field for you to enter is "human health and social work". And you aren't going to be a doctor or a nurse or a radiographer or something, the way a STEM graduate employed in that area almost certainly will be.
Probably, you're going to be a social worker or something closely related.
The next likeliest area for "social studies" grads is "professional, scientific and technical", which doesn't sound so bad. And it does include some reasonably cushy numbers such as "research and experimental development on social sciences and humanities", the job the two profs have. It also includes architecture and law, though social-studies grads will have to retrain if they want those jobs.
What the psychology, sociology, philosophy etc graduates will be doing in this field is more likely to be "public relations and communication", "advertising", "media representation", "market research" or "environmental consulting".
The next likeliest field for the social-studies grad - almost exactly as likely as managing to scrape a job in market research or PR, in fact?
You guessed it: becoming a teacher.
So actually, while social-studies grads don't work solely as social workers or teachers, it is very common. If you don't want to be either of those things, it would be a good idea to study something else.
Oh, and the "fact" that social-science grads (including lawyers, architects and biz-studies ones alongside the social-studies types) are more likely to be employed at 3 years than STEM grads are?
That's simply because the STEM grads are more likely to be doing postgraduate work, and so don't count as "employed".
We here on the Reg education and employment desk also couldn't help noting that the good profs also recommend this other set of information about what bachelor graduates are doing 6 months after graduation, as opposed to the numbers above which reflect the situation 3 years after. We checked a few subjects.
For instance, far and away the likeliest job for a computer science or IT grad in 2012 is that he or she is now working as an "IT professional" (57.9 per cent).
By contrast the likeliest job category for 2012 graduates in Psychology, Geography or Sociology was ... "retail, catering, waiting and bar staff".
Enough said. ®