Should universities ‘sell’ their graduates online?

A Chinese university has launched an e-commerce site in a bid to improve its graduate employment figures. Will others follow suit? asks Ellie Bothwell

July 9, 2015
Source: iStock

Graduate employability has become one of the most ubiquitous phrases in higher education in recent years.

With the financial crisis derailing the upwards trajectory of graduate earnings and leaving many graduates struggling to secure graduate-level employment, universities have naturally come under closer scrutiny on this score.

In the case of England, where there has been a shift from the state funding undergraduate education to students paying through higher tuition fees, the financial return when they enter the job market has become all the more important.

The result is that employment figures have never been more important not only to students, but also to universities and the government (which is hoping that the loans made to students to cover those fees will be paid back).

So how might universities go about improving their graduate employment statistics? The solution being trialled by one Chinese university is to resort to “selling” its graduates online.

He Hua, president of Kunming University in Yunnan province, has launched a “talent shop” on a retail platform operated by China’s online commerce giant Alibaba, enabling prospective employers to bid to offer each student a job contract.

According to the People’s Daily Online, the site profiles 65 of the university’s top graduates, including a photograph, a brief summary of their career ambitions and their desired salaries.

In the UK, the universities and science minister, Jo Johnson, has made it clear that graduate employability figures of some sort will be part of the criteria used in a new teaching excellence framework.

With universities likely to do everything in their power to maximise their score in the TEF, this raises a question: when the TEF is implemented, might any university in the UK be tempted to do something similar to Kunming?

And if such a website were to spring up, what would that mean for graduates who aren’t awarded a 2:1 or a first, or universities that are ranked towards the bottom of the league tables?

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