Geography is flourishing in higher education. Almost all UK higher education institutions, and all of the leading universities, undertake 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 one 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.
The last research assessment (2014) for the subject in the UK found that British geography is world-leading in many of its activities.
19 of the top 50 geography departments in the world for research are based in the UK according to the latest World University Rankings.
Significant impact: geographical research generates economic benefit, influences government policy and delivery, and improves our overall quality of life. Among the many 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.
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 on health and safety law, and fed into Parliamentary inquiries on the importance of the Census, the National Planning Policy Framework and high speed rail.
QAA subject benchmark statement
The subject benchmark statement for geography defines what can be expected of a graduate in the subject, in terms of what they might know, do and understand at the end of their studies. The statement is helpful in the design and review of programmes of study in geography and related subjects, for students to find out what is involved in the study of geography, and for employers to find out what they can expect from a geography graduate.
Human geography in the UK is number 1 in the world: an international benchmarking report, chaired by the then 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.
Read the report
In 2017, the Society published a report on the current state of UK physical geography. It uses documented evidence, most of which is in the public domain, to describe the nature and demand for physical geography in schools, the shape and size of physical geography in universities, the achievements and global influence of UK physical geography and its academic community, and the aspirations and skillsets offered by the next generation of physical geographers.
The independent review of this report by a panel of eminent overseas experts confirms that “it is beyond doubt that UK physical geography is a leading force worldwide as evidenced by all the metrics discussed in this report”. Nonetheless, there are challenges, detailed within the report, that need to be addressed to enhance the scientific, academic and public presence, inclusivity, resourcing, autonomy, and global reputation of UK physical geography.
The Society is leading a working group, which is representative of constituent bodies within UK physical geography, to address the challenges identified in the report and the independent review.
Read the report
The results of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) demonstrate the world-leading quality of geographical research conducted in UK universitie, as well as highlighting the wide-ranging and significant benefits that UK geographical research brings to the economy and society.
The REF provides a robust and thorough assessment of the quality of universities’ research in all disciplines. The research of academic staff from UK universities was peer-reviewed by a series of panels comprising UK and international experts, and external users of research. The panels judged 71 per cent of the submitted geography work to be ‘world-leading’ (4*) or ‘internationally excellent’ (3*).
The quality of research was found to have improved significantly since the last exercise in 2008, confirming other independent evidence of the UK’s world-leading position and enhanced performance.
Data skills in geography
A critical skills shortage in quantitative methods (QM) exists across the education sector in the UK - in schools, universities and in the workplace. We have co-authored a number of reports on the status of teaching and learning of QM in higher education, focusing on the challenges faced by instructors and students, and the resources and interventions that can be used to address them.
Quantitative methods in geography: making the connections between schools, universities and the workplace (Harris et al. 2013).
Skills in mathematics and statistics in geography and tackling transition (Souch et al. 2014).