Degrees are not enough

June 9, 2000

Campus careers services must do more to help students into work, argues Baroness Blackstone.

Too many careers services are Cinderella operations, banished to the edges of campuses and wholly separate from the academic life of universities. So said the Dearing report in 1997. There might have been a little improvement since then, but progress has generally been slow.

In order to speed up change, I am today announcing a review of the state of higher education careers services. The review, chaired by Martin Harris, vice-chancellor of Manchester University, will identify the best career services nationwide and will try to map out a template for a modern, effective service. Students and employers will be invited to join the review group, which will report by the end of this year.

I believe that the careers service of the 21st century needs to be a bridge between higher education and employers, shaping the future direction of universities. In his recent speech at Greenwich University, education secretary David Blunkett spelt out the need for universities to forge closer links with employers. It is vital, he argued, to ensure that students have the skills and experience they need to work in an increasingly global economy.

The drive to improve careers services is part of our wider strategy to enhance the employability of students and the responsiveness of universities to the needs of the economy. It is important that, in deciding where to apply, students know which universities and colleges have the best record in helping graduates find jobs.

That information is also important to employers. Getting the collection and publication of that data right is not easy. Account needs to be taken of factors such as subject mix in a university or college as well as its entry standards.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has set up a group to propose a way forward. I would like the new indicator - measuring how well graduates at different institutions are doing at finding jobs - to be introduced next year.

Universities and colleges need the advice and involvement of employers to ensure that their courses are relevant to the world of work. The new foundation degree and graduate apprenticeship courses, to be shaped jointly by employers and universities, will bring that partnership closer than ever before.

Students need to know what skills they require to get the jobs they want, and they expect advice at a time convenient to them. They also need help after they have graduated if their careers do not proceed as planned.

Employers need a steady supply of skilled graduates. That means careers services in higher education must be high quality and have strong links to other advice agencies. From next April, the new Connexions service will begin to give personalised guidance to 13 to 19-year-olds. There also needs to be strong links with the new system of local information, advice and guidance for adults, which will be the responsibility of the new Learning and Skills Council to plan and fund. Learn-direct information and advice service will provide a national database giving information about learning opportunities across Britain.

All these services must work closely together to ensure that people with the talent to benefit from higher education, from whatever background, are helped to apply and then to succeed in their studies and careers. This is a challenging time. To make the most of the opportunities created by the knowledge economy, universities and colleges and employers need to forge new partnerships that will make a real difference.

Tessa Blackstone is minister for higher education.Are university careers services in need of a shake-up?

* Email us on soapbox@thes.co.uk.

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