What students want

July 16, 2015

Graham Gibbs’ frustration with graduate employment data, outcome measures and the teaching excellence framework (“Employability data signify nothing”, Letters, 9 July) will be shared by many, but is overdrawn. Anyone who talks to prospective students and their parents at open days knows that whether courses produce a good job quickly is of great interest. As public funding has been largely replaced by student fees and debt, this concern is not to be dismissed lightly or prudently.

Annual data from Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education surveys are not ideal but can be benchmarked at subject and institutional level, and triangulated with other evidence, including three-year DLHE follow-up surveys and a growing body of academic research. The recent eight-year Futuretrack programme at the University of Warwick, for example, produced convincing data on the importance of work experience and work-based learning in graduates’ acquisition of managerial and professional jobs. That finding provides at least a hint to institutional strategy-makers. Many institutions, such as Southampton Solent University, have already taken such hints and developed data measures to track progress.

If institutions can do this, it should not be beyond our wit to design a national system that does not simply replicate established prestige hierarchies, as Gibbs fears. A satisfactory system may not be achieved overnight, but there are potentially two big prizes: enhancing confidence that a degree really is worth it and, if we can get it right, rebalancing the relationship between research and teaching that is at the heart of prestige hierarchies.

Richard Blackwell
Professor of higher education policy and practice
Southampton Solent University

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