Good news for graduates is just bad reporting

This is an interesting news story published in the new issue of tpm. It was written by our production editor, Matthew Humphrys.

Philosophy Graduates can do just about anything they want when it comes to employment, or so claimed the Guardian in November. But when TPM did some investigating of our own, a different picture began to emerge.
In the article, dated 20 November, the Guardian said that graduates with degrees in philosophy had never been in such demand in the workplace. It claimed that figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that graduates in philosophy were having better employment opportunities than ever before, resulting in a significant percentage increase in philosophy grads finding employment.
The article claimed that, “The number of all graduates in full-time and part-time work six months after graduation has risen by 9% between 2002-03 and 2005-06; for philosophy graduates it has gone up by 13%.” Philosophy graduates were no longer quite so derided as “unemployable layabouts” and were being prized by employers. Having drafted in Simon Blackburn to comment on how he can certainly see a change in the way that the public views philosophers, the newspaper went on to say, “It is particularly significant that the percentage finding full-time work six months after graduation has risen, since the number of philosophy graduates has more than doubled between 2001 and 2006.”
Other news sources and blogs repeated the claim, among them employment for students, the University of Hertfordshire, the University of Columbia (Canada), The Nigerian Student and Kenodoxia.
The only problem is that the central claims made are false. TPM spoke to Simon Kemp, the Press Secretary of the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), and requested the same figures that The Guardian had received. Kemp explained to TPM that the figures show an increase in “the number rather than proportion of philosophy graduates who reported being in paid work in the two years in question. Since there were more graduates, and more respondents to the destinations survey, this is not really evidence of any increase in the rate or employment of philosophy graduates.”
Of the philosophy graduates who replied to the survey in 2002/3, 62.4% were employed 6 months after graduation. For 2005/6 this had risen to 63.1%.
It is true that there is an increase in the number of graduates studying philosophy, and this is indeed about 13%. However, the percentage going into employment remains virtually unchanged, and at 63.1%, lags more than 10% behind the 73.7% average for all graduates in 2005/6.
There is also an increase in the total number of graduates UK-wide for the same periods of 10.6%.
The drop in the unemployment rate for philosophy graduates should be considered alongside the percentage increase of students who chose to go into further study, and so do not enter the “assumed to be unemployed” category. In 2002/3, of the 1,300 full time study philosophy graduates who responded to the survey, about 8% were classed as being in further study. Of the 1,470 full time study respondents in 2005/6, this had risen to 22%.
In correspondence with the Guardian a week before the article was published, the press officer had explained to the researcher for the article that, “As you can see, there is no appreciable change in the percentage of Philosophy leavers in employment.”
TPM contacted the reporter who wrote the article in the Guardian, and she insisted that she had used the figures given to her by HESSA and HECSA.

  1. I think what also needs to be taken into consideration is that often students pursuing philosophy degrees already have established jobs in other fields, or are often retired.

  2. This highlights why journalists like absolute figures and people who know what they are talking about like figures normalised to some population.

    Sadly, journalists will often cherry pick the absolute figures and calculate their own headline statistics despite the correct rates being provided in the same material.

Leave a Comment

NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>