Employability (Part One)

paris_italy_2011_33-1posted by Simon Kemp

The Higher Education Statistics Agency recently released their latest report on what happens next to university graduates . They asked four hundred thousand ex-students, who had finished a degree at a UK university in the 2013-14 academic year, what they were doing six months later. The results, in spreadsheet after spreadsheet of data, are all here, if you’d care to explore them.

So, how does modern languages do? How does it compare with other subjects in terms of the employability of its graduates?

Well, as it turns out, it does pretty well. Six months after graduating, 88% of modern languages graduates were in employment or post-graduate education. That’s above the average for all subjects, and better than physics, chemistry, business studies, social studies, history and philosophy (all at 87%), or media studies, agricultural studies and computer science (all at 86%). It equals maths, biological sciences, design and engineering, and is bettered only by medical science, architecture, law and education. Given that the last two of those are also available to modern languages graduates via one-year teacher-training or law-conversion courses, and very popular destinations among our students, it seems fair to say that there’s hardly a better passport to a career than a modern languages degree. (Except maybe architecture or medicine, I guess, but we can’t all spend our working life doodling skyscrapers and getting coughed at by people with the flu. If that’s what you fancy, then please go ahead with the medicine and/or architecture. Everyone else, though, ought to think seriously about a modern languages degree.)

Looking deeper into the data, it’s no surprise to see that modern languages graduates top the charts for people getting their first job abroad, with 6% of the cohort working overseas. The subject also has one of the highest percentages of people going on to further study, with 19% of students studying for a postgraduate qualification, and a further 7% combining postgraduate study with work. Modern languages are useful in so many fields, that it’s common for students to follow up their degree with a one-year masters course in business, law, international relations or some other specialist area into which they will take their language skills.

This is, incidentally, why modern languages often get overlooked when newspapers publish ‘top ten’ lists of employable degree subjects: since the criterion  is to be in full-time work six months after graduation, the large number of modern languages graduates doing masters courses messes up our stats. Another chart on the HESA site looks at current employment levels for people who finished their degree in the previous year, 2012-2013. There, modern languages is riding high, with 92.2% of graduates from full-time degrees in employment, again beating physics, chemistry, maths, engineering, computer science (still at a startlingly low 86.5%), history and business studies. Once again, only medicine-related subjects, law and teaching have higher employment rates than modern languages.


So those are the statistics; what about the reality? Next Wednesday I’ll tell you about some of the destinations my own modern languages students have gone on to after their degree. (And, by the way, if there are former Oxford modern languages students reading this who’d like to share their own stories of life after university, do send them to me at simon.kemp@some.ox.ac.uk, and I’ll include them in a later post.)

One thought on “Employability (Part One)”

  1. Merci beaucoup Simon.
    As an MFL lecturer in a tertiary institution teaching A levels and IB, I really appreciate the work you are doing signposting the information on literature, film and employability!
    It’s perhaps one of the most convincing arguments for taking a language and one that is not raised with young people thinking about a career.
    What a superb way of incentivising language learning!

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