Make a good job of it

21st February 1997 at 00:00
From the glamorous to the disreputable, Stephen Thomas looks at career paths for social scientists. What do we tell our students when they are caught up with their higher education options and ask what they can do with a social science degree? Where does it lead in career terms?

First of all, there are the high-flying, glamorous and occasionally disreputable pointers to those who have reached elite positions.

A London School of Economics First propelled Maurice Saatchi into his advertising career. Laurie Taylor left his chair in sociology at York for a job at BBC Radio 4 and joined Basil Bernstein, Anthony Giddens, Albert Halsey and other sociological glitterati in Who's Who.

A clutch of them have clawed their way to the higher reaches of educational administration. Reith lecturer Ralf Dahrendorf was director of the LSE from 1974-84 and Professor Giddens has recently taken over the post, while Gerald Bernbaum moved from his role as scourge of the wets at Leicester to become vice-chancellor of the University of the South Bank.

John McVicar took advantage of a long stretch in jail to study for a sociology degree and graduated from bank blagging to the barely more reputable profession of journalism. More disturbing, Hendrik Verwoerd moved from the chair of applied sociology at Stellenbosch University to become prime minister of South Africa in 1958 and the sinister architect of apartheid until his assassination in 1966.

When it comes to political influence in Britain, with the exception of David Marsland who spent much of the 1980s feeding the prejudices of the Tory Right, the Thatcherite hegemony has left sociologists out in the cold, despite Virginia Bottomley's Essex sociology degree.

The days are gone when the likes of Halsey could advise Tony Crosland on comprehensive reorganisation and educational priority areas. With a general election round the corner, this could change. Clive Hollick is a hot tip for a place in a Blair cabinet. A sociology degree at Nottingham and merchant banking, propelled him to a Labour peerage and media mogul status as chief executive of United News and Media, owners of the Express titles.

The colder facts about the patterns of career destinations for the bulk of social science graduates are less glamorous but more diverse.

The best source of statistical data is the annual What Do Graduates Do?. The new edition, just out, outlines the career choices of the 6,225 students, gaining degrees and HNDs in sociology and related disciplines such as social policy and administration between October 1994 and July 1995. Almost 17 per cent went for further academic study or professional qualifications, about 60 per cent into jobs, with about 12 per cent believed to be unemployed.

The profile is changing dramatically with only 9 per cent entering social welfare-related occupations and a tiny 2.4 per cent going into teaching. A lucky few find their way into academic research.

The new video And There's Sociology Too, produced by the British Sociological Association (Scotland), helps to bring the patterns in the statistics alive. It is good not only on what sociology is and what it involves at university, but also on what you can do with it.

It is encouraging that the evidence belies those stereotypes that social science only allows you to be a do-gooder or a political activist along the lines of the Citizen Smith character Wolfie.

With the rediscovery that there is such a thing as society and the need to do something about a nation in which, if Observer editor Will Hutton is to be believed, 30 per cent are experiencing serious disadvantage, social science, and sociology in particular, is due for another revival.

What Do Graduates Do?, Pounds 5.95, CSU, Armstrong House, Oxford Road, Manchester Ml 7ED.

And There's Sociology Too, Paul Littlewood, Sociology Department, Adam Smith Building, Glasgow University, Glasgow G12 8RT. It costs Pounds 30 to institutions, Pounds 25 to individuals.

The Association for the Teaching of the Social Sciences has produced a set of four posters to promote sociology. Pounds 12.50, including postage and packing, from ATSS, P0 Box 61, Watford WD2 2NH

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