University of Exeter supporting national campaign to highlight the creative and economic value of English degrees

The University of Exeter is joining with counterparts across the country on a national campaign to highlight the value of English as a subject and counter ‘misleading myths’ about its contribution to the nation.

English departments at UK higher education institutes are working with high-profile graduates such as comedian David Baddiel and novelist Patience Agbabi, to showcase the skills and competencies it can offer to students.

The #EnglishCreates campaign, led by University English in association with the English Association, will show how young people can create a difference in the world through an English degree, and futureproof their skills for life, work, and social change.

It comes at a time when several English departments are facing closure due to a steep fall over the last decade in the number of young people studying the subject at A level and beyond.

Exeter has a proud heritage of teaching English, both as a single honours degree, and in combination with other subjects such as Drama, Film Studies and Creative Writing. It boasts a number of famous alumni including musician Thom Yorke; naturalist and presenter Steve Backshall MBE; Oscar-nominated actress Vanessa Kirby; and award-winning screenwriter Alice Birch.

“Far from being a ‘low-value degree’, English provides skills vital to today’s growing markets in the creative and arts sectors, and language-based systems and industries like AI,” says Andrew McRae, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Exeter, and the Director of the campaign. “But the popularity of some English literature and language courses has fallen due to misleading myths about job prospects and skills.

“An English degree creates value of many kinds, helps employability, and equips graduates with life-long skills to respond meaningfully to challenges like the environmental crisis and technological change.”

The #EnglishCreates campaign is built around several key points, including:

  • English creates crucial skills for employment and social change in Communication, Critical thinking, Collaboration and Creativity. Together, these are described as Storycraft, skills highly valued by business and social leaders
  • English is a key contributor to the creative industries, the fastest growing part of the UK economy
  • Arts and Humanities graduates have the same employment rate as science graduates
  • Average graduate starting salaries are up to £23,000, comparable with Psychology, Law, Business Studies and Chemistry
  • English graduates enjoy the joint fourth highest annual average wage growth, at 6.2%, higher than graduates of Physics (5.9%), Business (5.8%) and psychology (5.6%)

Among the national figures supporting the campaign in addition to David Baddiel and Patience Agbabi, are writers Ali Smith and Jeanette Winterson, and children’s author Francesca Simon.

“The workings of the human heart, the human mind, the human spirit, are best understood through the arts,” says Jeanette Winterson. “Without the Arts and Humanities, we do not know ourselves, only our achievements. Without the Humanities we cannot read the past – how did we get here? Without the Arts, we risk a future where humans look in a mirror without a reflection.”

“Apart from the joy of reading widely, I learned to analyse, to search out meaning, to think critically, to write confidently,” added Francesca Simon. “Reading great books from the past, from Anglo-Saxon poetry and Beowulf through Chaucer and Mrs Gaskell and Trollope, gave me a feel for history, a sense of time, and an understanding of how cultures evolve and change. Studying English also helped me discover my own style of writing, grounded in an understanding of rhythm and sound and of course, alliteration.”

The #EnglishCreates campaign will culminate in a week of national events in June, including one hosted on the Exeter campus. More information can be found on the University English website. English graduates and supporters are encouraged to share their own stories on social media channels using #EnglishCreates.