Educational routes to the top revealed

Monday 01 June 2015

A degree in social sciences plus international study or work experience are the two most commonly shared characteristics of professional leaders around the world, a new British Council study has revealed.

44 per cent of leaders surveyed have a social science degree, and 46 per cent have some experience of education or work outside of their home country.

The British Council, in partnership with Ipsos Public Affairs, conducted a study of 1,709 current professional leaders with higher education qualifications from 30 countries, and across sectors. The aim of the research was to reveal the higher education backgrounds of professional leaders around the world, and examine how direct learning and other higher education experiences had affected their careers.

The research will be launched today at the British Council’s annual ‘Going Global’ conference for leaders of international education, in London.

The research reveals that:

  • the majority of leaders have degrees in the social sciences and humanities
  • young (under 45 years old) professional leaders favour degrees in social sciences and humanities, compared to older leaders
  • a greater proportion of leaders have international educational or professional experience, compared to the general population
  • extra-curricular and networking opportunities afforded by higher education are just as valuable as direct learning.

A third of professional leaders surveyed have international work experience and a third have international education experience. 17 per cent have both international work and education experience.

Of those that pursue education abroad, the likelihood of international study increases with degree level. Less than one fifth (16%) of leaders have bachelor’s degrees from another country, whereas over one third (38%) have advanced degrees from overseas institutions.

Where leaders traveled internationally for their undergraduate education, 40 per cent studied in the US, followed by the UK at 17 per cent. Looking at professional degrees only, 52 per cent of leaders that obtained a degree outside their home country went to the US, and 18 per cent studied for a professional degree in the UK.

Professor Rebecca Hughes, British Council Director of Education, said: 'The world needs leaders who can handle complexity and give diverse perspectives on the challenges we all face. Globally, we need to go beyond a simple 'two cultures' binary outlook these days and as this research suggests, it is those with backgrounds that enable them to draw from multiple cultural reference points, and the academic training that encourages them to explore the human dimensions behind empirical data, who have tended to succeed and reach positions of leadership.”

Paul Smith, British Council Director in the US, said “Quality leadership, and leadership potential, is at a premium in navigating the challenges and fractures of a world of increasing risk and opportunity. Our research shows a clear need for leaders who have critical analytical and interpretative skills as well as professional knowledge, leaders who can make decisions based on understanding of cultural context and human insight, and leaders who are international in their outlook and, increasingly, in their learning experience. Knowledge and aptitude in the humanities, the social sciences and STEM are all essential to grow trustworthy global leadership. Academics need to re-converge to produce leaders who can discover holistic solutions to humanly complex problems.”

Social sciences and humanities together make up over half (55 per cent) of bachelor’s degrees among leaders in the study, with social sciences making up the majority (44 per cent) of these. The number of current professional leaders with a social science degree seems to be much higher than in the general population.

Nearly two thirds of professional leaders studied hold an advanced degree (such as a Master of Arts/Science, a PhD, or an MBA). Half of those that hold master’s degrees and doctoral degrees studied social sciences. However, the humanities constitute a significantly smaller proportion – less than 1 in 10 for a master’s and 1 in 20 for a doctoral degree.

While men and women are roughly equal in social sciences and business undergraduate degrees, men are more than twice as likely to have engineering degrees (17 per cent compared with 6 per cent), and women are more than twice as likely to have humanities degrees (17 per cent compared with 7 per cent).

The research also found that 79 per cent of politicians studied social sciences or the humanities during their undergraduate education, and 67 per cent have no advanced degree. However, 63 per cent of civil servants have an advanced degree (23 per cent hold an MBA).

 

 

Notes to Editor

For More Information please contact Tim Sowula tim.sowula@britishcouncil.org or +44207 389 4871 or @timsowula

The research ‘Educational Pathways of Leaders: an international comparison’ will be presented at the British Council’s ‘Going Global’ conference for leaders of international education, in London, in the session:Preparing leaders: an interdisciplinary approach

Leaders’ were defined as those who are in a position of influence within their organisation and their sectors more broadly.

The research was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs. Previous studies in this area have focused on the skills and pathways to professional leadership from the perspective of human resources or higher education itself. This study takes a different approach by observing the pathways to professional leadership from the perspective of leaders themselves.

Our study surveyed 1,709 professional leaders with higher education experience from 30 countries chosen to align with the GLOBE culture clusters[1], Targets were set by culture cluster to achieve balance on gender, age (under 45 and over 45 years old) and the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. This non-representative yet balanced approach enabled us to obtain a large sample of different types of leaders in each of the main categories, so that the data would tell us something about the categories themselves.

 Three key questions in the research are:

 

1.    What are the higher education pathways of professional leaders around the world?

Summary of Findings:

Social sciences and the humanities are the most common bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and PhDs among global leaders across all country clusters (see table below), age groups, and sectors. MAs and MScs are more common amongst young leaders, while MDs and PhDs are more common among older leaders. MBAs are the most common professional degree, and are significantly more likely to be held by men than women, under-45s, and leaders working in the private sector and civil service. Most leaders studied in their home country, but those in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, are most likely to have studied overseas.

Breakdown of findings:

·         Social sciences (44 per cent) and humanities (11 per cent) together make up 55 per cent of bachelor’s degrees among global leaders, followed by business (14 per cent) and engineering (12 per cent)

·         While leaders in the private sector are equally likely to have humanities and social sciences degrees, those in government are more likely to have social sciences degrees and those in not-for-profits are more likely to have humanities degrees

·         Men and women are roughly equal in social sciences and business, but men are significantly more likely to have engineering degrees (17 per cent compared with 6 per cent), and women are significantly more likely to have humanities degrees (17 per cent compared with seven per cent)

·         22 per cent of the sample received a professional degree

o   Of these, 64 per cent received MBAs

·         72 per cent of those that received MBAs currently work in the private sector

o   the financial/consulting sector (24 per cent) and consumer products sector (24 per cent) are made up of more MBA graduates than other professional fields

o   civil servants are also among the most likely to have MBAs (23 per cent).

 

2. Do specific higher education backgrounds lead to careers in particular sectors?

Summary of Findings:

Degrees in the social sciences are found in leaders in all sectors and sub-sectors. They are overwhelmingly present in politics, and the least present in areas where we would expect to find scientists, like health, energy and environment, defence and security. In these sub-sectors, engineering, health, and science degrees constitute a much larger proportion of degrees held by leaders. Civil servants and not-for-profit leaders are more likely than those in the private sector (except for defence and security) to have an advanced degree, although outside of the private sector only civil servants have a high percentage of MBAs.

Breakdown of findings

·         Those in government are more likely to have social science degrees than humanities degrees (33 per cent compared with 22 per cent) while the reverse is true for not-for-profits (24 per cent compared with 33 per cent)

·         79 per cent of politicians studied social sciences or humanities during their undergraduate education, and 67 per cent have no advanced degree

·         63 per cent of civil servants have an advanced degree, with 23 per cent having an MBA. Both politicians and civil servants are more likely to be older and male.

·         64 per cent of leaders in not-for profits have advanced degrees. They are much more likely to be younger and slightly more likely to be women. They have significantly more MAs (31 per cent) than MBAs (8 per cent).

 

3.    What contribution did higher education experiences make to their careers?

Summary of Findings: Non-direct learning experiences during higher education are very important to leaders. Almost half of the leaders sampled had international study or work experiences.  The qualitative interviews highlighted that international experiences develop intercultural skills essential for a globalised workplace. Leadership skills are also developed through extracurricular activities and social networks started during higher education continued into professional life.

Breakdown of findings:            

·         46 per cent of our sample had some international experience – either education or work outside of their home country.

·         Leaders from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt are most likely to have had an international experience (71 per cent) – 55 per cent had studied overseas, and 48 per cent worked overseas (32 per cent had done both).

·         Leaders from Canada, the USA and the UK are least likely to have had an international experience – 25 per cent had some international experience, with 14 per cent having studied overseas and 19 per cent having worked overseas (8 per cent had done both).

·         Leaders more likely to have studied overseas, but work solely in their home country, come from Confucian Asia, South Asia, Middle Eastern and African countries.

·         Leaders from other countries (mostly in the Latin Europe, Germanic Europe, and Latin American clusters) are more likely to have worked overseas than to have studied overseas. This is especially the case for Europeans. 12 per cent of leaders from Austria, Germany and the Netherlands have studied overseas, but 46 per cent have worked overseas. 25 per cent of leaders from France, Italy and Spain have studied overseas but 46 per cent have worked overseas.

·         Those who studied business are significantly more likely to have had an international experience (especially for work) than graduates of social sciences, humanities, or engineering.

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 8,000 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 publicly-funded grant provides less than 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 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.

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