McKinsey: rankings ought to show who is on the job

Company’s education leader calls for greater focus on graduate employability. David Matthews reports

November 22, 2012

Global university rankings should measure whether graduates are able to get jobs as well as institutions’ teaching and research records, according to one of the world’s most influential consulting firms.

Mona Mourshed, leader of the education practice at McKinsey and Company, said that the world’s universities were producing too many graduates who were likely to be unemployed or underemployed.

“The entire motivation of education provision today is ‘We’re here to attract you and bring you in, to provide you with a good-quality education’, but there is very little focus on what happens to you when you leave campus,” she told Times Higher Education at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar.

“So if we are going to be in a world where people pay more attention to that, is it possible to have these things reflected in the rankings? It certainly could be.”

Global league tables such as the THE World University Rankings do not use data on graduate employment or earnings when calculating the figures. However, other rankings, such as the Financial Times’ Global MBA Rankings, do incorporate graduates’ average salaries.

According to a McKinsey report to be released in December, there are “vacancies that are going unfilled because of a lack of skills” in a variety of economies, Dr Mourshed said. Given that workers were now likely to switch jobs frequently over the course of their careers, “what we need are people who are anchored in a discipline and who have a suite of soft skills to support them to rapidly learn as their career progresses”.

The issue was not which subjects were taught, but whether teaching methods developed talents such as communication, teamwork and critical thinking, she said.

“It doesn’t matter about the discipline, it’s about the nature of the instruction.”

McKinsey’s influence over UK university policy has been controversial. Stefan Collini, professor of English literature and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge, has accused the firm of utilitarian attitudes towards the academy.

Dr Mourshed is the successor to Sir Michael Barber at McKinsey, who was one of seven panel members on Lord Browne of Madingley’s 2010 review of higher education, which recommended uncapping tuition fees.

Another member of the panel, Peter Sands, was a former director at the firm.

In a debate at the summit, Christine Evans-Klock, director of the Skills and Employability Department at the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, explained that there was a “terrible unemployment crisis, particularly among young people” throughout the world.

“In some places there are jobs going unfilled because employers can’t find people with the right skills, and in many cases those jobs are in technical fields - they’re not ones you enter from academic training,” she said.

However, much of this unemployment was the result of a “terrible lack of demand for employment” rather than the specific failings of schools and universities, she added.

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