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Geography in the UK
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Geography in the UK

The importance of geography in schools and higher education in the UK: information on how the subject is increasingly popular, influential, valued, and appealing to employers.

"This is a great age for geography. Very big questions - climate, poverty, disease, migration, water, energy, biodiversity - all demand geographical analysis, as do specific national issues in the UK, like housing, social deprivation, flooding and regional development. As the population grows, and with pressures on the Earth's systems increasing, geography has never been so important." Nicholas Crane (RGS-IBG President)

Climate change, migration, environmental degradation, inequality, energy security and flooding are just some of the challenges facing the next generation, which geographers must help address. Geography is a highly valued subject in schools, in Higher Education and in the workplace.

Geography in Schools

The study of geography equips young people with the knowledge and understanding to be informed citizens in the 21st Century, providing them with the skills to pursue a range of careers.


  • Stimulates an interest in places, people and the environment.
  • Helps young people make sense of a complex and dynamically changing world and how society, the economy and environment combine to bring about change.
  • Explains where places are, how places and landscapes are formed, how people and their environment interact.
  • Explores how a diverse range of economies, societies and environments are interconnected.
  • Examines natural resources and their sustainable use.

Over recent years the the number of students studying geography at school and university has been rising, with geography experiencing some of the most rapid rates of growth for all subjects. The number of GCSE entrants has increased by 22% since 2011; it is now the eighth most popular subject at GCSE, A and AS Level.

In Scotland, more than 11,200 pupils achieved a 'pass' in Geography at SCQF level 3 - 5 in 2014/15, whilst nearly 5,500 students passed SCQF level 6 - 7.

The importance of geography has been recognised by government: the UK Government has included geography as one of the subjects within the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) aimed at getting more students to study core subjects at GCSE.

Geography is important for further study and careers: the Russell Group of Universities, recognise A Level geography as one of the key 'facilitating' subjects for entry to degree level study. Their document Informed Choices (4th Edition, 2015/16) provides details. Geography graduates have highly valued, transferable skills, equipping them for a range of careers.

Studying in Higher Education

Geography is flourishing at higher education level. Almost all UK higher education institutions, and all of the leading universities, are undertaking both teaching and research in geography.

Popular: geography is a very popular choice of subject studied at higher education. There are more than 80 universities in the UK offering Geography-related degrees and at any time there are almost 30,000 students studying geography full or part-time. The number of entrants to geography degrees in autumn 2015 was 8% higher than in the previous year. Numbers studying geography at postgraduate level have also been increasing.

Good quality: as annual student satisfaction surveys reveal, students studying geography enjoy some of the highest levels of satisfaction with the quality of their course. Students admitted to geography degrees have amongst the highest tariff scores from exam results of all subjects studied at university.

Geographical Research

Human Geography in the UK is number 1 in the world: An international benchmarking report, chaired by the Director of the Society, Dr Rita Gardner CBE and launched in March 2013, concluded that human geography research is world-leading. Conclusions from the report were that human geography in the UK is:

  • An empirically and conceptually innovative, diverse, vibrant discipline that in many areas sets the intellectual agenda.
  • Radically interdisciplinary and with the spatial turn in the humanities and social sciences has become an exporter of ideas and faculty to other disciplines.

The report also concluded that:

  • The UK publishes more than its share of major disciplinary journals; bibliometric indicators reveal international primacy both in volume and citation impact; and a large number of the seminal publications (books as well as articles) continue to have a UK origin.
  • There is confidence research in human geography had substantial impact on policy and practice and would successfully meet the challenges of the current impact agenda.

The last research assessment (2014) for the subject in the UK found that British geography is world-leading in many of its activities.

Nineteen of the top 50 geography departments in the world for research are based in the UK according to the latest World University Rankings.

Has impact: geographical work has significant impact: it generates economic benefit, influences government policy and delivery, and improves our overall quality of life. Amongst the examples, geographers have developed new technologies which make our roads and transport safer; helped create more cost-efficient approaches to flood management; developed new techniques for the restoration of urban rivers aiding urban regeneration and improved local environmental quality; and shaped the Government’s ‘Regeneration Framework’ to target financial assistance on poorer areas. For more details and further examples, see the Society's policy case studies.

Influential: Geographers have taken lead roles in the a number of high level studies for Government, including the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) and Foresight (Government Office of Science) research projects on the 'Future of Cities'. 'Migration and Global Environmental Change', 'International Dimensions of Climate Change' and 'Future Flooding'. Geographers have played significant roles as independent advisors to decision-makers, through groups such as the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) Science Advisory Council. Geographers have also led reviews for Government of health and safety law and fed into Parliamentary inquiries on the importance of the Census, the National Planning Policy Framework and high speed rail. Find out more through Society News.  

Geography in the workplace

Employable: Geography graduates are highly employable, as a result of transferable skills and jobs where the specific knowledge and skills of the subject are utilised.

Geography graduates are: numerate; literate; good team workers; can think analytically and critically; have cultural agility; are socially and environmentally aware; and are creative.

Geographers have the ability to integrate ideas effectively, problem solve, are highly computer literate and have wider experience due to fieldwork.

Geography graduates are - according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency's 'Destination of Leavers from Higher Education' survey - less likely to be unemployed after their degree course than those studying almost any other subject.

Value of geographers: one example is the geographic information industry, valued world-wide at £1 billion: almost all major companies now use geographical information, making geography graduates particularly valuable employees given their spatial analysis skills and discipline-specific knowledge.

Professional: Geographers who demonstrate their competence, geographical knowledge and skills in the workplace can work towards accreditation with the RGS-IBG, as a 'Chartered Geographer'. Chartership recognises experience, professionalism and commitment to geography and brings benefits for both employees and employers.


Contact us if you have any questions about the data sources used.

Last updated 14.12.16

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