HR directors in the UK tend to be less well educated than many of their peers in Europe, and the proportion with degrees has fallen over the past decade.
In the UK, almost seven out of 10 HR board directors have a degree, and even though it is still perfectly acceptable not to have an academic degree, the proportion of non-university educated HR directors has fallen since 1992. In France and Spain it is virtually unheard of to have a board level HR director without a university degree.
Educational backgrounds in Europe are notoriously different and this is reflected in the differences in the educational levels of HR directors. In some countries, human resources management is a specialist degree at university level; in others it is a sub-section of psychology, integrated in pedagogy or seen as the remit of legal studies. And in others yet again human resources management is not primarily an academic qualification, but mainly the subject of professional diplomas.
In the Netherlands and Switzerland, for example, human resources management has a well-respected structure of vocational qualifications and academic post holders are in a minority.
Differences are also visible in the subject of studies for those who have been to university. In the UK, the most common subject for degree holders is business studies, but social science or arts and humanity degrees are almost as frequently held.
Unlike the common perception of a legalistic personnel profession in Germany, the majority of German HR directors have business degrees, as do their colleagues in Austria, Denmark, Norway and Ireland.
Yet the legal tradition is still alive and kicking in many European countries. More than a fifth of HR directors in Austria, France, Portugal and the Netherlands have come to HR via a law degree.