Studying Sociology Courses in the UK
Why is our society organised in the way it is today? Why does it change over time? What do we really know about important issues, such as how migrants can integrate into their new country and how teenagers make use of social networking sites? What drives women to prostitution – lack of money or lack of education?
Sociologists try to answer these and many other important questions because sociology is the study of society, how it is organised, why it changes and the principles that govern the way it works. Sociologists carry out research into education, ethnicity, gender, health, family, food, religion, work, sport and many others areas of fundamental importance.
Much of that work has been carried out in Britain. Sociology in the UK has been taught in British universities for more than a century, with several thousand academics with sociology qualifications teaching the subject to more than 30,000 students in the UK at present.
An international benchmark report in 2010, written by a team led by Professor Helga Nowotny, President of the European Research Council at the time, said that British sociology was “at the international forefront” of sociology worldwide.
The report said that UK sociology “compares extremely well in a wider international frame, as, perhaps, being second only to the US,” and “continues to be intellectually innovative and vibrant and shows many reassuring signs of a strong and lively engagement with the contemporary world and its manifold problems.”
Sociology in the UK is not just about Britain, of course. It also deals with worldwide issues, such as migration and globalisation. It considers issues such as how climate change will affect the way our society is run, and if national governments can ensure that most people have a job, education and health care or whether most of their decisions are taken with transnational corporations in mind. British sociology is linked closely with sociology in other countries and UK academic journals frequently carry papers from researchers across the world. The British Sociological Association (BSA) has links with over 400 institutions in 45 countries.
Several projects give a flavour of the recent research carried out by sociologists in the UK. One, publicised by the BSA in March 2015, found that generous welfare benefits in 18 European countries made people more likely to want to work, not less. One project in 2014 found that Western Europe faces a demographic crisis caused by the growth of part-time and temporary work. Another project, run in conjunction with the BBC, investigated social class in contemporary Britain (http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/0/21970879).
Part of the reason that the UK sociology has achieved its international recognition is because its open intellectual atmosphere has made students and researchers from abroad welcome in British universities over the past decades.
Around 40 British universities have sociology departments and another 70 more teach sociology courses in other departments, so those wishing to study in the UK have a wide choice.
The British Sociological Association’s website (www.britsoc.co.uk) has a dedicated section for people thinking of studying sociology. See: www.britsoc.co.uk/what-is-sociology/undergraduate-study and www.britsoc.co.uk/what-is-sociology/postgraduate-study
The undergraduate section has a link to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service site in the UK, where sociology courses can be searched for. It is not usually a requirement that applicants have already studied sociology at school in order to take it at a British university.
A sociology degree from the UK makes graduates attractive to employers worldwide because it instils a range of valuable skills, such as how to generate new information using a wide range of research tools, how to work in teams, and how to work effectively without close supervision. These skills, and the broader insight into the workings of society that the subject gives, are the reasons that many employers see a degree in sociology as highly relevant.
People who study sociology go on to a variety of jobs, including working in health and education, the criminal justice system, the advocacy and rights sector, marketing and communications, urban regeneration, housing, community organisations, social policy, finance, and other private sector companies. A report in 2013 found that social science graduates are more likely to be in employment after their first degree than graduates in other areas such as science and the arts, and a higher proportion are in managerial and senior official roles.
The BSA is well-placed to make the case for sociology. We were founded as the professional organisation representing sociologists in Britain, and we have 2,500 members in Britain and abroad. We operate a network of over 50 study groups, free to BSA members, covering a wide range of specialisms within the discipline and we run postgraduate and early careers forums as a way of sharing common interests. The BSA also gives its members free advice on writing and publishing work in academic journals and promoting research in the media. Contact us if you want to know more: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Judith Mudd, BSA Chief Executive www.britsoc.co.uk
The benchmark report can be seen at:
The graduate destinations report can be seen at
Featured Institute: University of Aberdeen, Department of Sociology