Science and engineering graduates possess many of the same general skills and have as much success in finding employment as their arts colleagues, according to Arthur Lucas, principal of King's College London.
Professor Lucas told a conference for careers teachers and advisers at the college that while arts graduates were often expected to work in an area not directly related to the content of their degree, many peers and advisors mistakenly expected science graduates to be less flexible in the job market.
He pointed out that many science and engineering graduates do not go straight into jobs directly related to their degrees, adding that employers focus on recruiting students who best develop a set of transferable skills while at university. Student success in acquiring these skills, such as the ability to work in a team or with computers, may depend more on how they plan their studies, and what they derive from them, than the subject they study.
Issues such as the nature of the learning experience at the student's university could then assume much greater importance. "The real question is whether the skills employers want are more readily supplied by hard science than by subjects such as English, history or law," he said.
There is a suspicion that some students believe employment after university is more difficult and less financially rewarding for a science graduate, he said.
This could be causing a significant number of able students who enjoy science to prepare themselves for a degree other than science or engineering.
"The reality is that there is little to distinguish between graduates of different disciplines in terms of employability," he said. Careers teachers should therefore not advise students on their A level choice purely on the basis of graduate employment.
Professor Lucas said that science graduates have a wider range of career options - almost all those open to humanities graduates as well as those restricted to scientists.