If half of the people who bought your product or service rated it as poor value for money wouldn’t you be worried? I would. Yet that’s the position of many universities as they come under increasing pressure to do more to help their students find a job after graduating.
While it isn’t the responsibility of a university to find their graduates a job, employability outcomes do influence how institutions are seen – after all, improving future job prospects / pursuing a specific vocation is the number one reason students give for going to university. According to the latest Which? University report (‘A degree of value: value for money from the student perspective’), just over half – 52% – of students who thought their university experience was poor value for money, cited reasons as ‘not enough support to find a good job’. In other words 48% wouldn’t recommend their university to a friend.
For graduates, it’s all about employability
In contrast, graduates doing a vocational degree where they have to study a specific subject to get the job they want are more likely to rate their experience higher. In this case the figure is 72% so clearly graduates feel better about their university experience when their career prospects or job outcome is higher.
Clearly, if universities where measured against unsatisfactory ratings given to other branded products then we would likely see half of them going out of business over night. Take the erstwhile positioned Tesco. Reports of consumers disillusioned by service, price and quality and rating it behind all other rivals (including Aldi and Lidl) is underpinned by a £250m shortfall in profits. Mike Tattersall, who conducted the research, said it is ‘sobering’.
It’s certainly time for universities to sober up because employability is going to become even more critical with coming reforms, which will likely see a further increase in fees. Universities will be under even greater pressure to demonstrate that they are ‘fit for purpose’, suggests the Which? report, or it could cost them dearly in terms of enrolments, ratings and funding.
The problem facing university careers services
As we said, it may not be the responsibility of universities to find graduates a job but it is certainly in their best interests to do all they can to help, especially in this climate when competition for jobs is at all levels. However, one of the challenges facing universities has to do with the way careers advice is currently structured. Students need huge amounts of help as to what careers and jobs would be suitable for them and this is impossible for a university careers service to effectively offer on a one on one basis.
The typical university may have 25,000 students to about 25 career advisors – that’s 1000/1. It is no wonder then, as the High Fliers research showed, that 75% to 85% never visit their careers centre. Students simply don’t feel they are getting the advice they need and university careers advisors lack the resources required to dig beneath the surface to find out about a student’s skills, motivations and so forth.
A solution for increasing employability outcomes
Universities need to change the way they offer careers advice. The first step they need to take is to put in place an employability plan. It should start from day one and run over the three years that a student is at university. It should list all the things you have to do in each of the three years and it must be delivered by technology and supplemented by one to one meetings.
Such an employability plan will help point graduates in the right direction without drawing heavily on a university’s limited resources.
It is worth stressing that graduates also have a role to play. It is their own responsibility to work to get a job but just as a university provides a graduate with a set of tools in terms lectures and resources to get the degree it must also provide a compete toolkit for how to get a job afterwards.
Note: If you are a graduate or university who wants to find out more about designing an employability plan contact Graduate Coach.