European Union states will be encouraged to produce comparable data on graduate employment to ensure that degrees remain relevant to the labour market.
While the vast majority of the EU’s involvement in higher education is now focused on either funding research and innovation through the Horizon 2020 programme or mobility through Erasmus+, there are signs that the next multi-year funding framework will seek to tackle other issues.
Speaking at the European University Association’s first forum on learning and teaching at Pierre and Marie Curie University, Sarah Lynch, head of sector (higher education) at the European Commission’s directorate-general for education, youth, sports and culture, said that improving tertiary education had risen as a policy priority for the commission in recent months.
As part of this agenda, the commission had passed a recommendation to promote tracking of both the short- and long-term outcomes of graduates, as well as their perceptions of how well their degrees prepared them for work, said Ms Lynch.
“A lot of individual member states have tracking systems, but we want more comparable data, as well as in what sectors [graduates] are employed,” said Ms Lynch. “We also want qualitative data on how relevant their degrees felt and did they qualify them for their career."
The plans could form part of the research and innovation budget from 2020, which could be worth as much as €120 billion (£106 billion) over seven years, a 50 per cent increase on the current package.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Ms Lynch said that the commission was “looking to coordinate work within countries” because “while some have quite advanced systems, some don’t and we want to bring together the data”.
The commission was examining different models of graduate tracking, including the UK’s recent use of tax records for its Longitudinal Education Outcomes data by subject as well as labour market survey information, Ms Lynch said.
“We want to look at how much [graduates] earn and what they study, but also their social engagement and what sectors they enter,” she added.
If universities knew which sectors graduates of certain subjects were entering they could update their curricula to ensure students were well equipped for these workplaces, Ms Lynch explained.
Insisting that monitoring was not a means of shutting down courses whose graduates typically had lower earnings, Ms Lynch said that the plans would provide “information for students, parents and policymakers”, thereby improving student decision-making.