Student perceptions of career readiness not matched by reality

UK students have ‘inflated’ views of their preparedness for the job market compared with undergraduates elsewhere, a major international study contends

October 22, 2015
Greenpeace activists protesting, Reichstag building, Berlin
Source: Reuters
Mismatch: undergraduates and graduates see career preparedness differently

Students in the UK are “overly optimistic” about how skills and experience gained at university prepare them for the workplace, an international study suggests.

In a survey of almost 8,000 people in 14 countries, students and graduates were asked to rate how well their university course had prepared them for the job market.

According to the study by education technology company Instructure, about 90 per cent of UK students were satisfied by the career-applicable skills and experience offered by their university.

Among UK graduates, however, less than 50 per cent agree that they had received satisfactory career-relevant experience and about 70 per cent are happy with the skills received.

Those disparities between students and graduates are among the largest of any developed nation, says the report, Career Preparedness and Lifelong Learning: A Global Perspective.

UK graduates are also less likely to be employed in their chosen field of work than those from other countries, the report says.

Some 32 per cent of UK graduates polled by Instructure were not working in a role to which they had aspired, placing the UK 11th in the global poll.

Graduates most likely to be employed in their preferred field often hail from developing nations, with only 15 per cent of Colombians and 21 per cent of Indians working outside their desired career path, the study says. Among developed countries, graduates from Denmark and Norway are among the most likely to work in their chosen field, with just 17 per cent and 21 per cent not doing so, respectively.

“Students in the UK tend to be more optimistic about their preparedness for a career than those who actually are working,” Jared Stein, vice-president of research and education at Instructure, said of the “inflated” expectations of career readiness.

Overall, some 71 per cent of students felt happy with their career preparedness, compared with 47 per cent of graduates who were in work, the report says.

The mismatch between students’ and graduates’ perceptions of career preparedness were also particularly stark in Australia, Japan and South Africa, it adds.

The disparity highlights the need for graduates to undertake training and skills development throughout their working lives to ensure that they can adapt to the changing job market, Mr Stein said.

“Every school and university should put an emphasis on career preparedness, but universities should also make students look further than two or three years into the job market,” he explained.

Students must understand that they will need to adjust their skills over the years and undertake additional training or education if necessary, he said.

“The role of universities has evolved to where its purpose isn’t simply to instil knowledge and information, but to teach students how to continually learn on their own throughout their life,” he said.

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