Experts’ view: Rating universities by graduate employment prospects

The Lord Browne review calls for universities to publish details of graduates’ employment prospects, which will allow applicants to compare universities based on the proportion of graduates entering jobs after a year, average salaries and the number of students completing courses. We ask our experts what they think about ranking universities by graduate employment rates.

UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook

Clear information from universities will help students choose the right university: The recent announcements made by government affecting the higher education sector, together with the recommendations contained within the Lord Browne Review, mean that making the decision about going to university and deciding which universities to apply to will become increasingly more important. The provision of clear, transparent information by the universities will help students to choose the right university – and the right course – for them, and at UCAS we have a key role to play in ensuring that this information is easily accessible to all those considering entering higher education.

Students will benefit from a clear understanding of what they can expect from their chosen university and what, if they apply themselves during their studies, they can hope to achieve once they graduate. This is valuable information that will not only ensure they get the best value in return for their tuition fees but also that they are well prepared upon graduation to embark upon their chosen career.

Julie Hepburn is deputy director of Cardiff University Careers Service

Students need to be sure that they are comparing like with like: I can see the attraction for potential students of looking at a table of employment rates, but they need to be sure that they are comparing like with like. The subject mix in an institution will be a big factor in determining how easy graduates will find it to enter graduate-level employment during the first six months following graduation (which is when the annual graduate employment survey, the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Survey, is carried out. Universities with large medicine, engineering and pharmacy schools for example, will find that their overall rating is boosted by the very high employment rates of these graduates. Similarly, an institution with a lot of courses incorporating industrial experience is likely to show higher overall graduate level employment rates than one with purely academic courses. Some courses such as psychology require graduates to gain extensive work experience before progressing on to further academic study, to become professionally qualified. These initial posts may well not be graded as graduate-level employment — though a snapshot of careers for these graduates five or six years down the line will tell a different story.

Tanya de Grunwald is the founder of the careers advice website Graduate Fog and author of Dude, Where’s my Career? The Guide for Baffled Graduates

Ninety per cent of students employed? They could be flipping burgers: What’s the deal with these ’employability statements’? I’m dying to know how universities hope to reflect a degree’s ‘worth’ using graphs and charts. Life after graduation is a messy business. Saying “90% per cent of students from this course were employed within six months of graduating” isn’t necessarily a boast. They could be flipping burgers. Then again, if we define success as ‘doing a job related to their degree,’ that won’t work either. Most history graduates never intended to become historians. Then there are the graduates who go travelling or do a master’s because they can’t find work — how should we include them? The poisonous culture of internships will also skew the results enormously. If a graduate is working full-time but earning less than the minimum wage, are they employed or unemployed? And are they ‘doing well’ or not? I think the only helpful statistic would be the percentage of graduates who are employed in a permanent job that they enjoy – and are earning more than £25,000 a year. Lots of courses would close immediately – but at least we’d be telling young people the truth.

Penny de Valk is the chief executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM)

It is also important to consider vocational qualifications: Of course employability and earning potential are important factors for career choice — but so is doing what you love. Hairdressers and DJs regularly top the list of careers people are happiest in. Most of us have lives, not just careers and we shouldn’t underestimate the reward that comes from contributing to something you believe in. Ranking universities by graduate employability is just one piece of information to help people make informed decisions about what learning they should invest their time and money into, and it should also include vocational qualifications. Sixty percent of employers believe people with vocational qualifications already have the skills and experience to work for their business from day one as opposed to graduates, and their earning power is just as great. And surely we need people in our organisations that have missions — not just jobs.

Paul Blackmore is divisional head of Employability & Graduate Development at the University of Exeter

Don’t rely on figures highlighting past performance: Several national newspapers already produce university league tables that highlight the levels of graduate prospects or graduate-level employment experienced by recent graduates from their respective institutions. Therefore it remains to be seen how the government can add further value to these tables. Another related issue in these times of austerity and public spending cuts is that a university that currently sits high in the league tables may have invested in the employability of its student several years ago, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that this level of support is still in place. Prospective students should therefore take into account whether an institution’s position is improving and research the extent to which a university is currently investing in the employability of its students, and not merely to rely on figures highlighting past performance.

Rob Cross is founder of Grad Expectations — a consultancy which focuses on developing the next generation of leaders through coaching and training seminars. He is author of Grad Expectations, a guide for graduates entering the workforce

It’s important to remember why people go to university: The purpose of higher education across the globe is to help people learn how to learn. However, I believe that over time the collective ‘we’ have forgotten this fact and have thought only about getting people educated, rather than recognising the purpose of that education. This has ultimately eroded the quality of higher education across the globe, and funnily enough the employability of graduates. In summary, when thinking about education vs employability, we must remember that quality of education is the driver of employability, and not the other way around.

Professor Paul Curran is vice-chancellor of City University London

Students will value the information when making a university choice: This would be a welcome development as students have high expectations of higher education. Undergraduates expect academically-excellent programmes and many expect their degrees to lead to professional careers. They will value information to help them select the right programmes and high quality careers support to put them in a position to succeed.

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