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Geography is a 'soft option' for posh students who cannot do other subjects, says Oxford Professor

Theresa May and Prince William were both geography students

Sophie Gallagher
Thursday 28 November 2019 11:42 GMT
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Studying geography at university is a “soft option” for school leavers who are not good at other subjects, says a professor from Oxford University.

Professor of geography, Danny Dorling, says departments like his need to do more to address the fact the student demographic for the subject has the “narrowest and poshest” social profile.

Dorling, who has advised the government on social mobility, says since the 1970s the subject – which was introduced at Oxford University in 1899 – has become seen as a “soft option for [pupils] who are not actually that good at maths, or writing, or reading, or science, or imagination”.

Talking to the Times Higher Education Supplement, he said: “Geography in the UK has become a soft option for those who come from upper-middle class families where increasingly you are expected to go to university, especially for those who were privileged (and so often have high GCSE marks) but are not actually that good..."

Although the curriculum should cover issues like climate change and global inequality, Dorling said it actually gives rise to graduates who “make the world an even worse place” by taking careers in industries like banking, advertising and management.

He added geography is the “favourite subject” of “ those who create hostile environments for immigrants, political parties that border on the facists, of war-mongers, bankers and imperialists”.

Famous geography alumni include former Prime Minister and Conservative MP Theresa May and Prince William who studied the subject at St Andrew’s University in Scotland.

Dorling said geography needed to be taught more in more deprived areas of the UK so that those choosing to take it up at a degree level are doing so “because they really want to” and not because they feel they have to go to university and pick a subject.

In a separate article in the journal Emotion, Space and Society, Dorling wrote that university geography departments need to do more to address their imperial origins as it is the “core subject of imperial domination”.

He explained: “Most of the world doesn’t have many geography departments. It is a very British-centred thing. If it was a more international subject, our journals would be full of people writing from different backgrounds.”

According to the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) 40 per cent of 16 year olds study geography, compared to around 27 per cent in 2010. This increase has largely come from black and minority ethnic minority groups.

A spokesperson for the RGS told The Times: “It is right that geography reflects the diversity of the world within its students. There is more work to be done across the geographical community to properly achieve this.”

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