Thursday 01 May 2014

Development agencies recognise value in a humanities education

How do the humanities help solve global development challenges?

New research commissioned by the British Council reveals that the humanities contribute significantly to the delivery of development programs addressing social, economic or public health challenges around the world.

The value of the humanities – a diverse group of academic disciplines broadly defined as the study of human culture – can sometimes be overshadowed by breakthroughs in science and technology. This study, carried out for the British Council by Ipsos from January to March 2014, shows that the humanities are valued by development agencies and organizations for the skills and attributes they cultivate.

Extensive interviews with senior leaders, HR managers and program officers at 19 top international development organizations, donor agencies and NGOs revealed that humanities graduates are seen to have important skills that complement the scientific and technical expertise needed for development projects.

Study participants felt that a humanities education helped people navigate complex relationships, deal with administrative, regulatory and geographical barriers, and understand local cultural contexts – all of which are essential for the successful delivery of development programs.

I have seen good technical professionals fail because of the lack of sensitivity or awareness of local languages, cultures, history, philosophy, or religion.

--HR Manager

People with humanities degrees were also reported to be more likely to serve in leadership roles on the design and delivery of development interventions. Some of those interviewed said that a humanities education was less about gaining a body of knowledge, and more about acquiring an adaptable set of skills. These skills were seen as most useful when combined with international experience, especially for recent graduates.

Paul Smith, Director of the British Council in the US, said: “These findings confirm the intrinsic value of the humanities in contributing to the solutions of some of the greatest developmental challenges that exist in the world today. In many ways this validates the notion that no global issue can be fully understood, let alone resolved, without real evidence of how the local community and the rest of humanity are experiencing it.”

Notes to Editor

The research will be presented and analyzed at the British Council’s annual ‘Going Global’ conference for leaders of international higher education, in Miami, at 13:30 local time on Thursday 1 May.

 For Interviews please contact Tim Sowula at or +447771 718 135 Alex Dimsdale, or +1 202 258 0384.

·         The British Council’s ‘Going Global’ conference is the leading annual global event for leaders of international education

·         The conference brings the global experts to share the latest thinking on the issues that really matter for the future of higher education around the world.

·         More than 1,000 leaders in higher education, business and government will gather in Miami Beach from April 29 – May 1. This is the first time the conference has been held in the Americas. Over 70 countries will be represented by a delegation including 125 university presidents, vice-chancellors, pro vice-chancellors, and government ministers.

· ·         Nine pieces of new research will be presented at this year’s conference

·         The British Council’s work keeps the UK at the heart of the international HE landscape and central to its development - and Going Global is a vital part of this strategy

·         Follow the conference on twitter @HEGoingGlobal

Going Global media contact details

In London, Tim Sowula, or +44 207 389 4871 / +44 7771 718 135

In Washington DC, Alex Dimsdale, or +1 202 588 7837 / +1 202 258 0384

In Mexico City, Daniel Chavez Heras, or +52 (55) 52631981

In Rio, Ana Signorini, +55 21 2172 5202

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 7,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publically-funded grant provides less than 25 per cent of our turnover which last year was £781 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.