A number of UK History departments have recently been faced with, or are experiencing, cuts to programmes and staff, or mergers with other disciplines.
As part of its advocacy role, the Royal Historical Society works with historians and heads of department who face significant change to their professional lives. Some of this work is ‘behind the scenes’ in communication with departments and university managers. Other aspects of this role include the provision of commentaries and resources to support historians, as best we can.
This page brings together these resources and contacts. It is a ‘work in progress’ and we welcome proposals from colleagues for additional information, especially from those who have – or are – experiencing cuts to staffing, research and teaching provision in their departments. To offer suggestions, please email the Society’s Academic Director. All communication is confidential and will not be disclosed by the Society.
1. Contacts at the Royal Historical Society
If you wish to get in touch with the Society, in confidence, please contact either:
- Professor Emma Griffin, President, RHS: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr Philip Carter, Academic Director, RHS: email@example.com
It is our experience that communication with universities is most effective when made as early as possible, so please do contact the Society at the soonest opportunity.
The Society also holds regular meetings of History Heads of Departments. Please contact us if your department is not represented at these meetings, or when the person in this role changes. This will allow us to keep our list of attendees up-to-date.
2. Contacts and advice from other UK History departments
The Society is in contact with a number of historians who have recently faced cuts to their departments, in terms of programme closures or redundancies. These historians have experience of organising and responding to difficult and unexpected situations, and have often gained knowledge and skills that may be new and valuable to others who now find themselves in similar situations.
We have now consolidated this advice as a separate document which outlines a detailed ‘check-list’ of recommended actions for members of a department facing cuts. This document is available on request from the Society for historians in UK Higher Education concerned about programme mergers, closures or redundancies.
The Society also has a confidential list of professional historians in UK Higher Education who are willing to speak to colleagues now facing threats to teaching or research in their departments. If you wish to be put in touch, in confidence, with colleagues from other departments, please contact the Society’s Academic Director. Please also contact us if you would like to offer your experience and advice, in confidence, to others. The Society is very grateful to those who have already offered their time and expertise in this area.
3. Contacts for other learned and historical societies: UK and international
The Society has available listings of additional UK societies and institutions dedicated to the support of history and cognate disciplines in the humanities. In the addition, we have listings of prominent learned societies and professional bodies for historians outside the UK.
- Listing of UK historical societies and related organisations (May 2022)
- Listing of History learned societies and professional bodies, Rest of World (May 2022)
4. Data in support of History and humanities degrees
Recent challenges to departments have often made reference to the value and appeal of a History degree, both in terms of students’ future employability and salary compared to other disciplines.
There is extensive data to challenge this assumption, which is summarised here. Much of this information is taken from the ‘further resources’ listed under 5. below.
a). GCSE and A-Level History
The absolute number of young people taking history at school has followed an upward trend for the past decade and continues to rise. Uptake at GCSE in 2021 was at its highest level in two decades, at 294,807 students (contrast with 260,521 in 2016), an increase of 13.2%. It is the Society’s view that this strong recent growth in GCSE History will correct the recent modest drop in A-level entries, itself a consequence of a decline in the number of A-level candidates, rather than a shift away from the subject.
- GCSE History student numbers, tracker, 2016-2021: source FFT Education Datalab, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and based on annual returns from the Joint Council of Qualifications
- A-Level History student numbers tracker, 2016-2021: source FFT Education Datalab
Further information on the outcomes of A-Levels for 2021 is available from the UK Government website: Guide to AS and A level results for England, 2021
b). Admissions to History courses
- Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data is available for subject admissions (undergraduate and graduate) from 2014/14 to 2018-19 (this is well-used in History UK’s Trends in History Provision in UK Higher Education, from History UK Report (June 2022, see below 5a).
- HESA data is also available for subject admissions 2019/21-2020/21
c). Employment for History graduates
- In 2017, 88% of SHAPE (Social Science, Humanities and Arts) graduates were employed (compared to 89% of STEM graduates in employment). 25% of SHAPE graduates work in the creative sector (worth £84.1bn to the UK economy). By 2030, it is expected that there will be 900,000 new jobs in this sector (British Academy report, Qualified for the Future, 2020).
- SHAPE graduates comprise 55% of global leaders and 58% of FTSE company executives (British Academy report, Understanding Humanities Career Paths, 2019).
- SHAPE graduates command competitive salaries. The average starting salary of History graduates is £24,000. For comparison, average starting salaries of STEM degrees are: Biological Sciences, £23,489; Business and Management Studies, £25,000; Chemistry, £25,000 (figures from Complete University Guide, 2021).
5. Further resources: reports and posts
The following reports provide further information on key points often raised when changes to department programmes or staffing are proposed. These include: the use and value of History as a discipline; the lack of transferable skills for employment; the employability of History students on graduation; and the salary of, and future career options open to, History graduates relative to other technology-focused and STEM subjects.
a). History UK
- Trends in History Provision in UK Higher Education, Report (June 2022). The report investigates UK-wide trends in university enrolments, with a focus on history undergraduate programmes, and including recruitment and outcomes. Now available: the Executive Summary and key findings along with the Full Report as a pdf download. Also see the accompanying tweet thread on publication (24 June 2022).
b). Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI)
- ‘Demand for Higher Education to 2035’, Report (2020) with predictions on the changing student demographics to 2035, by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) – an independent UK think tank for higher education policy.
- See also from HEPI: ‘Improving the fortunes of the humanities means thinking about post-16 qualifications’ and The Humanities in Modern Britain: Challenges and Opportunities (both September 2021). HEPI’s full list of publications (blogs & reports) is available here.
c). The British Academy
Like HEPI, The British Academy offers a range of recent reports, looking at skills, career pathways and economic contributions in the humanities and social sciences. These include:
- ‘The Right Skills. Celebrating Skills in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences’ (2017)
- ‘Qualified for the Future: Quantifying Demand for Arts, Humanities and Social Science Skills’ (2020)
- ‘Understanding the Career Paths of AHSS Graduates in the UK and their Contribution to the Economy’ (2019): this is the data heavy report which Qualified for the Future interprets in a more user-friendly fashion
- ‘Case Studies: the Career Pathways of Doctoral Graduates’ (a follow on from the 2017 Right Skills report)
The SHAPE initiative, co-led by the British Academy, also provides ideas for advocacy: see, for example, the introductory article: ‘All subjects have a role to play in rebuilding post-Covid. Let’s SHAPE the future together,’ Wonkhe (June 2020).
The British Academy’s SHAPE Observatory provides further content, including data on the economic contribution of SHAPE and disciplinary guides to selected subjects.
d). Other reports
- The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)’s ‘Benchmark Statement for History’ (March 2022): setting out the nature of study and the academic standards expected of graduates in History, for use by teachers, students and employers.
- ‘Humanities and Data Science’: an ongoing resource from The Alan Turing Institute on the intersection of humanities and data science
- ‘The Case for Culture What Northern Culture Needs to Rebuild, Rebalance and Recover’ (January 2022), report from the UK All Parliamentary Northern Culture Group
e). Commentaries from the Royal Historical Society and other learned societies
The RHS has incorporated some of the research listed above in its own recent commentaries on the civic value of History, the place of History at Higher Education, and the importance of universities for local communities and students unable to live away from home. These commentaries include:
- ‘History at Goldsmiths’ (statement, May 2022)
- ‘Confronting History’s cuts and closures’ (blog post, November 2021)
- ‘New university job cuts fuel rising outrage on campuses’ (Guardian article, including commentary, 24 October 2021)
- ‘Facing current challenges can be a vital part of our curriculum’ (blog post, September 2021)
- RHS statement on the recent closure of UK History departments (statement, May 2021)
- RHS President joins historians speaking out against closures (news story, May 2021), with link to a Guardian article (1 May 2021)
Statements on the value of History degrees, and practical tips for their defence, are also available from other societies, including the American Historical Association:
- ‘How Can we Help? Advocacy Inside the Beltway and Beyond’ (blog post, May 2021)
- Letters to the Editor: on How Can we Help?’ (October 2021)
- The AHA’s ‘Perspectives on History’ blog offers other contributions on this subject
6. Raising the profile of a campaign
Recent campaigns in defence of UK History departments have made effective use of social media to promote their concerns. The following are examples of campaign websites, open letters and petitions, which may offer guidance for others. There is more on profile raising in the
The Royal Historical Society has also compiled a list of 90 Members of the UK House of Commons and 160 Members of the UK House of Lords who state an interest in History in their public Who’s Who entry. This includes individuals with a History degree, History publications, committee activity or a research interest in the subject. Engaging local politicians, as well as notable alumni, is regularly identified as an important element of recent campaigns to defend departments from cuts.
If you wish to receive our list of UK politicians with an interest in History, please contact the Society’s Academic Director.
This page is a ‘work in progress’ …
We invite colleagues to help us develop this page and its resources to ensure they’re as useful as possible.
If you have recommendations for additions to any of these sections, or for the inclusion of further sections, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
All information provided on this page is correct to the best of our knowledge (June 2022). The Society is not responsible for the content of external links it provides here, though we seek to ensure the accuracy of URLs to external resources and will maintain and update the page as required.