The reform could boost employment prospects for humanities graduates, the report’s author said
A-level pupils should be required to study a humanities subject, mathematics and a foreign language to tackle a decline in humanities enrolments at universities, a report suggests.
The report, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute, argues that requiring maths as an A-level subject would improve the numerical abilities of humanities graduates and boost their employment prospects.
Dr Gabriel Roberts, an English teacher at a London secondary school and the report’s author, argues that the number of humanities students may rise if studying a humanities subject at university was made compulsory.
“Requiring pupils to continue a foreign language until the end of school might stem the decline in applicants for Modern Languages courses at university and lessen the social exclusivity of Classics and Modern Languages courses at leading universities,” he said.
Mandating foreign languages may also stem the long-term shortage of linguistic skills identified by employers, Dr Roberts said, a move that would benefit students following the “loss of international links likely to result from Brexit.”
The report highlights challenges humanities degrees are currently facing as enrolment, graduate employment and funding are all in decline.
Between 1961/62 to 2019/20, the proportion of UK students studying humanities fell from around 28 per cent to roughly 8 per cent of all students, the report found.
Dr Roberts said the employment prospects of humanitarian graduates are “weaker” than in other areas, but added that the “picture is mixed.”
“There’s a strong case for broadening post-16 education in the UK. A-levels are strikingly narrow by international standards, and the success of the International Baccalaureate and the Extended Project Qualification shows pupils can handle greater breadth than A-levels offer,” Dr Roberts said.
“The growing popularity of interdisciplinary degrees should also tell us something about the kind of education that many young people want. There is a strong case for change.”
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), said although there are distinct challenges around the humanities, the issue is “more nuanced, more interesting and more positive” than perceived, especially when considering teaching, course design or research.
“Moreover, the lively current debates on issues like statues and decolonising the curriculum prove that most people know we can only fully understand our society when the humanities thrive,” Mr Hillman said.