'Placements help minorities and mature'

April 11, 2003

Mature students and those from certain ethnic groups should choose courses with work experience to overcome prejudice from employers, a conference heard this week.

Stephen McNair, head of education studies at the University of Surrey, said: "Mature students are likely to have more difficulty finding work than younger students. It is particularly important that one constructs opportunities for people to try things out.

"The best way of overcoming prejudice is to put people into situations and let them work without committing themselves - like a six-month work placement."

Taking a course with a work placement also forced students to think about what they wanted to do with their lives earlier on, rather than panicking about getting a job while taking their finals, he said.

More than 80 per cent of undergraduates at Surrey undertake a work placement as an integral part of their degree programmes. Surrey has an impressive graduate recruitment record - 97 per cent of its former students are in work six months after graduation.

Professor McNair told The THES: "At Surrey, students need to confront what they want to be doing in their second year and try it out in the third year.

"Elsewhere, students don't think about it until they are doing their finals, and that's the worst time to think about graduate employment. They don't make very good decisions about their careers, and they mess up the revision for their exams.

"Rather than thinking about how you get a job, you should think about what you want from a job and what employers might want from you. A lot of it is about taking opportunities to try things out."

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