Contextual caveats

March 3, 2011

Christine Buccella's feature, "The pursuit of hire education" (24 February), was a lucid reminder that students have a wealth of information available to them as they make their university choices - not all of it to the liking of individual institutions. But while showcasing the utility and breadth of the data coverage, Buccella inadvertently showcases the pitfalls of failing to adequately explain or contextualise it.

When she mentions, for example, that "six months after graduation, salaries for (University of) Southampton graduates averaged £23,160 compared with £21,220 for those from (the University of) Manchester", she fails to point out that Southampton and Manchester are very different institutions, with different subject mixes, student bodies and, crucially, local labour markets. As many graduates choose to start their careers close to their institution of study, these data could merely highlight the difference between average salaries in the South East and North West of England - not to mention the relative cost of living and hence disposable income.

It is unclear what these figures tell us about university quality. Good but complex information goes hand in hand with good guidance to contextualise it; it is easy to mislead students and advisers who may not be familiar with the caveats that are necessary to ensure that data are as useful as they can be.

Charlie Ball, Deputy director of research, Higher Education Careers Services Unit

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry

But the highest value UK spin-off companies mainly come from research-intensive universities, latest figures show