Luton takes on Oxbridge elite

April 6, 2001

Graduates from Luton University are more employable than those from the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, according to performance indicators published this week.

Every full-time degree student from Luton University had found a job within six months of graduating last summer, compared with 93 and 97 per cent from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge respectively. The figures are based on survey response rates of 83 per cent, 81 per cent and 79 per cent respectively.

The introduction of an employment indicator was criticised when it was proposed. Vice-chancellors said the first-destinations survey, on which the indicator is based, "applied to an outmoded view of higher education" and employment indicators based on it would fail to consider part-time students seeking to improve their careers and lifelong learners.

Judith Secker, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, said this week: "Producing a single figure to represent the employment outcomes of whole institutions is only a part of the picture. It tells applicants little about the relative merits of studying a particular subject at a particular institution."

Medical schools and teacher training colleges dominated the top of the table. Specialist arts and design institutions clustered at the bottom.

A 100 per cent employment rate was recorded by two medical schools - St George's Hospital Medical School and the University of Wales College of Medicine - and by Newman College in Birmingham, a teacher training college.

Pre-1992 institutions had higher graduate employability rates in general than former polytechnics.

There were notable exceptions, however. Nottingham Trent University outperformed the University of Nottingham - and significantly exceeded its predicted employability into the bargain. Robert Gordon University also performed well, and Oxford Brookes University did better than the University of Oxford.

Overall, between 93 and 94 per cent of graduates were working within six months of finishing their degrees, according to the funding councils' performance indicator.

The biggest influence on employment is the subject studied. Medicine, dentistry and veterinary science recorded a 99.5 per cent employment rate. Creative arts other than music and drama had an employment rate of 88 per cent.

Students with the highest A-level grades on entry recorded an employment rate of 95 per cent, while only 87 per cent of those who had completed an access course were employed six months after graduating.

Ethnic origin was also significant. Some 93 per cent of white graduates were employed six months after completing their degrees, compared with 82 per cent for black African, 84 per cent for Bangladeshi, 85 per cent for Pakistani, 86 per cent for Chinese, and 89 per cent for black Caribbean and Indian graduates.

The first-destinations survey, in which graduates were asked what their main activity would be on January 3 2001, was limited to former full-time home-domiciled degree students.

Funding council statisticians constructed employability indicators from the results. They devised two measures - one that included students engaged in further study and one that excluded them from the data set. (All figures quoted here refer to the latter.) The statisticians calculated benchmarks for each measure, using factors pertaining to student and institution. For students, the benchmarks take into account: subject of study; entry qualifications; age on entry; gender; ethnic group; whether or not on a sandwich course; social class; whether or not from a low-participation neighbourhood; and degree classification. The institution's average A-level score, the local unemployment rate for 20 to 29-year-olds and the percentage of local jobs classified as graduate jobs were considered.

Students from two institutions were expected to find employment immediately - St George's Hospital Medical School and Homerton College, Cambridge, which is a teacher training institution. At the other end of the scale, three arts colleges - Cumbria College of Art and Design, Falmouth College of Arts and Norwich School of Art and Design - were predicted graduate employment rates of 85 per cent or lower.

The first two of these institutions failed to achieve even that - more than a quarter of the people who graduated from Falmouth College of Art were unemployed six months later.

Seven institutions did better than predicted by their benchmarks and 15 did worse. The universities of Luton, Kent, Nottingham Trent, Brunel, Hull, Loughborough and Aberdeen exceeded their benchmarks. Poor performers included the University of East London, South Bank University and London Guildhall University.

The funding councils want to extend the indicators to include part-time students, those with other undergraduate qualifications and postgraduates.

The first-destinations survey is also being reviewed to see whether information could be collected on types of jobs. Funding chiefs could then develop a "job quality" classification, which might be used in future performance indicators. It is likely to continue looking at employment six months after graduation.

• Some 5 per cent of graduates are unemployed six months after graduation, according to the first-destinations survey published last week by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

The graduate unemployment rate has been falling for the past three years. At the same time, the numbers embarking on further study have remained fairly constant. This year, 21 per cent of former full-time degree students went on to further education or training.

• Education secretary David Blunkett has told universities they must act to resolve access problems highlighted by their higher education performance indicators, writes Alan Thomson.

Mr Blunkett said that institutions that do not reach their performance benchmarks, produced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, should come under particular scrutiny.

In his reply to the education select committee's report on student access, Mr Blunkett said that Hefce would demand greater accuracy in planning and accountability for expenditure in terms of the action institutions take to resolve any access problems highlighted in their performance indicators.

Mr Blunkett also warned institutions to embrace the new advanced-subsidiary (AS) level qualifications and to adopt the new tariff system for measuring different qualifications, which is being introduced by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Many universities are sceptical about AS levels, preferring to make offers on the basis of A levels, and some oppose the tariff, which they fear will erode their right to decide entry requirements.

The secretary of state noted the committee's recommendation to raise the income threshold at which graduates become eligible to start repaying their student loans. He said that the threshold is being kept under review.

Referring to the select committee's recommendation that the cash premium for widening participation among people from poorer backgrounds be raised from 5 per cent to 20 per cent, Mr Blunkett said that Hefce was evaluating the premiums.

Table : Graduate employment 2001

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