Luton is not a main stop on the milkround. It is not on the beaten track of blue chip companies chasing brilliant undergraduates. Yet the evidence suggests that this newest of English universities produces extraordinarily employable graduates. Recent figures put Luton top of the employment league, with 77 per cent of graduates finding permanent jobs.
Some recruiters are sceptical. Martin Duffle, head of management recruitment at Unilever, points to "the mess hiding behind the declared statistics" and presumes that graduates from Oxford, where the permanent job rating of 49 per cent put it joint 55th, do not accept "the dead-end jobs" taken on by graduates from newer institutions.
But Luton remains unfazed. Tony Wood, vice chancellor, accepts that "statistics have to be treated with a pinch of salt", but he stresses that Luton is a vocationally-oriented university whose students are being "educated for employment". This may be low-grade employment, hardly consistent with the traditional idea of the so-called "graduate job," long viewed as a management traineeship or a position of responsibility.
Dr Wood does not lose any sleep over this. "I don't have any great hang-ups about graduates having to go out and start in a fairly lowly-paid job that ten years ago would have been filled by someone who had left school at 16 and got a City and Guilds - because if they truly have the potential and the initiative, then they will rise through the ranks."
This confidence in the employability of good graduates is rooted in the fact that Luton has developed a curriculum-integrated career development programme. When students arrive at Luton, they are handed a "PDP", a personal development portfolio. This readable 36-page booklet introduces students to the idea of self-awarness and encourages them to use the careers service unit well before they graduate. Last year, the unit had 9,894 visits comprising 832 interviews, 3,853 shorter meetings, and 6,160 general queries.
In the second year, students can take a career development module as part of their degree course, covering self-awareness, opportunity awareness, decision-making and transition learning. Claire Rees, head of the careers service, says this course, taken by 54 students this year, is designed "to produce reflective students".
In the second and third year, students can go on an unpaid work placement and the university is developing more employer-friendly initiatives. These are important to an essentially vocational university. As Dr Wood explains: "Luton should be producing people who have a better than average chance of a job. And if we don't do that, we are failing."