Science is the most ‘future proof’ degree: Engineering and chemistry seen as courses likely to lead to an adaptable career

Daily Mail, 29/12/14, students wishing to safeguard their careers against changes in the job market should opt for science rather than arts degrees, according to a survey of undergraduates.

Engineering and chemistry were considered to be the most ‘future proof’, as they are courses most likely to lead to an enduring and adaptable career.

Students polled by a college were broadly optimistic that their chosen courses would prepare them for a world in which the job market could change dramatically during their working lives.

But opinion was sharply divided over which degrees were best for future-proof careers.

Eighty-two per cent of respondents believed engineering would help develop future-proof skills, with 74 per cent believing the same of chemistry and 73 per cent of computer science.

But just 33 per cent of undergraduates believed history would lead to a future-proof career, and 40 per cent English.

However more than two thirds of students - 67 per cent - thought the world of work would be significantly different or completely unrecognisable in 20 years.

The findings, published today, come after Education Secretary Nicky Morgan sparked controversy with claims that teenagers should steer clear of the arts and humanities and opt for science or maths subjects if they want to access the widest range of jobs.

She said that in previous decades students would only take maths or science if they wanted to pursue a specific career such as medicine or pharmacy, but nowadays that ‘couldn’t be further from the truth’.

‘If you wanted to do something different, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do…then the arts and humanities were what you chose. Because they were useful – we were told – for all kinds of jobs.

‘Of course now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth, that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock doors to all sorts of careers are the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.’

She also described maths as ‘the subject that employers value most’ and said that pupils who study A-level maths will earn 10 per cent more over their lifetime.

‘These figures show us that too many young people are making choices aged 15 which will hold them back for the rest of their lives,’ she said.

However the remarks prompted an outcry among supporters of the arts and humanities, with critics maintaining that creative subjects were vital to Britain’s economy.

Later in the month, it emerged that a leading investment bank was aiming to hire a new generation of arts graduates because it blames ‘linear thinking’ mathematicians and economists for elements of the financial crisis.

Royal Bank of Scotland launched a recruitment drive on campuses targeting humanities students to bring greater ‘diversity’ to its workforce.

Outlining the move, Tim Skeet, managing director of RBS capital markets, said: ‘We still need the mathematicians and economists, we still need those disciplines but what we need to do is leaven it, we need an input from people who have left-field, blue-sky creative thinking, who can bring the ability to ask the tough questions.

‘If going through this crisis we had had a few more people who could have said - look, explain that to me in plain English...I think we might have avoided some of the problems.’

The poll of undergraduates, which questioned 1,000 students on the outlook for the jobs market, was commissioned by Pearson College, billed as the first institution run by an FTSE 100 company to offer degrees in the UK.

As well as variations across subjects, men were notably more confident than women about their prospects, with 78 per cent saying their degrees would prepare them for future jobs, against 67 per cent of women.

Roxanne Stockwell, principal of Pearson College, said: ‘Undergraduates in the UK know they face a rapidly changing world – but they are confident that their studies will prepare them for the challenges ahead.

'That’s an incredibly positive message to all those students who are spending the festive season revising for exams and finishing university applications.

‘Applicants need to be canny when looking at university courses and to make sure their choices develop the attitudes and aptitudes required to adapt to this rapid change.’

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