This is the time of year when many people are applying for PhDs or academic jobs and discussions of the current job market inevitably arise. A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of posts on job listings, doctoral cohorts and staff/student numbers, trying to provide some data to help inform these conversations, but I think it is time for an update. How have things changed since then?
The American Historical Association publishes its notorious chart of doom each year, showing the terrible ratio of new PhDs to advertised jobs, and its most recent version leaves little room for optimism.
In the UK, we lack a consistent, accessible annual list of academic history jobs. Although nearly all such posts are advertised on jobs.ac.uk, there is no easy way to turn these adverts into an annual figure except by manually monitoring and recording. So, instead, I’ve taken to focusing on the only reliable data that is publicly available: staff and student numbers.
HESA has published figures for full-time-equivalent staff in the subject of History for 2014/15 to 2017/18. The IHR has figures for teachers of history in higher education for selected years going back many decades, but ending in 2012. Conveniently, the HESA staff numbers for 2014 and the IHR numbers for 2012 are quite close, which suggests that they can be combined into a single series.
HESA also have figures for PhDs granted in History for the same period and, previously, going back to 1994/95, though the earlier period no longer seems to be online.
What do the numbers show? The headline is depressing. The number of PhDs has increased dramatically over the last thirty years, but the number of staff has grown much more slowly. As a result, the number of PhDs granted annually per member of staff increased substantially between 1995/96 and 2005/06. The number of PhDs granted per lecturer continued to grow more gradually and fitfully until sometime between 2012 or 2014.
The only ‘good news’ is that the trend seems to have levelled off since 2014/15. In other words, perhaps the job market has stopped getting worse.
However, the overall ratio is deeply worrisome. Currently about one PhD is granted each year for every five current full-time staff in History departments. If all of those new PhD holders sought academic jobs, about 20 percent of the academic workforce would need to retire each year to open up enough posts. Or History departments would need to expand their staff numbers by 20 percent per year. Or some combination of both. None of those options are likely.
What should we, as a profession, do about it? I’ll summarise my previous recommendations because while some promising initiatives such as ECA Survival have begun, there is still much to do on all these issues:
1) Publicise ‘official’ information about the academic job market for potential doctoral students.
2) Annually collect and publicise ‘official’ data on the state of history in universities.
3) Investigate and publish data on casualisation.
4) Publicise information about alternatives to academia.
5) Provide training, support and experience in alternatives to academia.
6) Pressure departments to hire responsibly.