For the sake of context, I have been accepted by a UK university for my undergraduate degree (Maths and Philosophy at Oxford), and shall be beginning my degree this fall.

My issue is this - after having looked into the course contents for English, I have been considering changing my degree subject once I arrive. However, when I suggested this to my parents, they were convinced that I would have to return back once my degree is over if I did this, because, according to them, it is much harder for an international student to get a job that will allow them to emigrate as a humanities student than as a STEM student.

As such, my question is this - as far as the UK is concerned, is there a significant difference between one's prospects in academia between the humanities and the sciences? And is it thus any harder for an international student to emigrate if he or she pursues an academic career in the Humanities?

  • 1
    Which country are you emigrating from? That could well affect visa conditions down the line. Things may also be complicated by Brexit. And are you sure you'll be able to change course? Maths & Philosophy -> English is a fairly big switch, especially at a selective institution like Oxford. May 11, 2020 at 15:07
  • I will be emigrating from India. Also, at least according to the course guide for maths and philosophy, changing, though an uncommon choice, is not unheard of, and the guide even suggests multiple approaches to doing so depending on e.g. the time elapsed during the course. Also, as far as preparation is concerned, most of my philosophy reading has been on literary theory and aesthetics, and I have completed about half of the english reading list. Would that make things any better? May 11, 2020 at 15:25
  • Do you satisfy the entry requirements for English? That is, do you have the equivalent of English A-Level? It seems highly unlikely they would allow you to change course if you do not.
    – A. Goodier
    May 11, 2020 at 17:44
  • 1
    I agree with @astronat. The first question here is whether Oxford (or more specifically, your college) will be willing to allow you to switch. They may, but you will need to convince a number of people that it is the right thing to do. Note that when an individual college only has a handful of students arriving to study a particular subject each year, one person changing course can be significant. By all means ask if it's possible, but don't set your heart on it before you've asked.
    – avid
    May 12, 2020 at 7:37

2 Answers 2


tl;dr: You parents are right. However, it is your choice to make.

  1. Professional job market is very competitive in the UK. If you are not a UK/EU citizen (which follows from your question), you need a Tier 2 visa to work in the UK. To be eligible for this visa, you need to earn a salary above certain threshold (currently £30000 per year). Also, your employer should sponsor your visa application.
  2. If you plan to work in academia, the majority of the universities do not discriminate on the basis of your citizenship and will sponsor your visa application if you are the best candidate for the job. However, academic job market is very competitive. To secure a job in academia, you need to have a PhD, and often a good number of academic publications under your belt. Note that PhD students in the UK pay tuition fees and do not automatically receive a stipend (as in some EU countries). You will either need to pay your way through your PhD studies, or to receive a scholarship to support your studies. However, even when you get a PhD, securing an academic job on top of it will take a lot of effort, commitment and luck.
  3. Outside academia, not many professions can offer an entry-level salary which is above the threshold required for professional immigration (Tier 2 visa). Among those which can, I can name a few: financial sector, data analysis, insurance sector, IT, some engineering occupations. Most of them are looking for candidates with strong technical (STEM) skills.
  4. Humanities are broad, and some people do make good money on top of their education in Law, in languages, in Arts, etc. However, note that for the purpose of immigration it is not sufficient just to earn money. You will need to demonstrate that you can earn money consistently and above the threshold. A lot of artists work freelance occupations, for example, and it is much more difficult to use such earnings as an evidence for UKVI purposes. Typically they would expect artists to apply for Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa, which is more expensive and generally harder to get.

Having said all this, I now want to answer a slightly different question. You asked about a chance of a student in STEM against a student in Humanities. However, what you really want to know is what is your prospects, assuming that you choose a career in STEM vs Humanities. This is a different question. Whatever career you choose, in order to immigrate on top of it, you will need to be excellent in what you do. It is very hard to develop excellent abilities in something you don't like very much. You have many years of studies in front of you; and you commitment and dedication to these studies is crucial to develop yourself as a desirable job candidate. You must love what you do. So my advice is: choose a career which you really like and work towards it. Don't make immigration your number one goal. And definitely don't make immigration to the UK your main priority - it is very unclear what the situation is going to be here by the time you graduate.

Good luck.

  • @astronat: I was thinking about upvoting, saw your comment, then upvoted, so in a sense you did upvote twice! May 11, 2020 at 18:03
  • In the UK, undergraduates are deemed to be fully independent adults responsible for their own decisions (unless under 18 years old). Ultimately, you will have to live with your choice of discipline, not your parents, so you should decide what matters most to you. If immigrating to the UK on Tier 2, it is probably easier to meet the salary threshold with a STEM degree. But any degree from an élite UK university should be sufficient to enable you to find a job meeting the salary threshold, if you are happy to work in a field other than your degree subject (e.g.: banking; civil service).
    – anon
    May 12, 2020 at 0:58
  • If, on the other hand, you are adamant about working in a particular artistic profession after graduation, you will probably find most entry-level salaries insufficient for Tier 2 purposes. You should also be aware that many people working in the arts in the UK work partially or wholly in a freelance capacity, an option which is not necessarily available to immigrants (I am not familiar with the details of the law on this).
    – anon
    May 12, 2020 at 1:06
  • If you are confident that you would rather study English, my advice would be to try for it (no guarantee the university will permit it, but definitely worth asking). Then, when you graduate, you can decide whether your priority is to immigrate to the UK permanently (even if it means finding a job that has little direct connection to your degree) or to pursue your dream career (even if it means leaving the UK). But if you are certain that immigrating to the UK permanently is your paramount priority above all else, maths+philosophy is probably a safer bet.
    – anon
    May 12, 2020 at 1:10
  • Anecdotal evidence: I studied an arts subject at Cambridge, went on to do masters and PhD studies elsewhere in the UK, and now work as a freelancer in the same discipline; many of my contemporaries have done variants of the above, but others have gone into stable employment in fields as diverse as teaching and investment banking!
    – anon
    May 12, 2020 at 1:14

If you wish to stay in academia, then yor status as an international student has little immediate consequence. Almost all full-time academic positions will hire you irrepsective of your nationality. However, you will face extra insecurity, because a period of unemployment or only part-time employment in the UK will lead to the likelihood of deportation. Even those you have been here long enough for indefinate leave to remain (the UK equivalent of a green card) have found themselves in trouble.

The second part of this question is humanities vs STEM. Here, your parents are right. To see that, you only have to look at how many STEM staff a university employs vs how many humanities staff. My university has at least 8 biology departments I can think of off the top of my head (Molecular Biology, Biomedical Science, Animal and plant science, Oncology, Immunology, Chemical and biological engineering, Neuroscience), each employing at least 40 faculty members and probably the same again full time post doctoral reserach assisstants. So thats minimum permenant 320 faculty members. The school of English (including literature, theatre, linguistics and film/television studies) has a total of 50 permanent faculty.

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