Students ‘want career-focused courses but not more regulation’

More than half of those polled by Hepi and NUS express support for education designed with employment in mind

December 8, 2022
Reaching goals
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A majority of students believe that their education should be designed with future employment prospects in mind but reject the view that funding should be reduced for courses that do not secure good jobs for graduates.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) polled 1,105 UK students to find out their views on career services and graduate employment amid a toughening up of rhetoric in Westminster about courses with “poor outcomes”.

The English regulator, the Office for Students, has introduced a new benchmark that states six in 10 graduates are expected to find professional work within 15 months of finishing a course, with institutions falling below the threshold facing penalties including potential fines or suspension of access to student support funding.

Hepi’s study – produced in conjunction with the National Union of Students and early careers network Handshake – indicates that while there is broad support for realigning higher education to better match the needs of employers, the sanctions are seemingly viewed as a step too far.

Of those polled, 53 per cent think “all university courses should be designed mainly with future employment in mind” and a further 37 per cent say “some university courses should be”. Only 8 per cent say only a “small proportion” or “no university course” should focus on employment.

However, 53 per cent strongly disagree with the proposal of providing reduced access to student finance to those opting for courses with poor employment prospects; and an additional 16 per cent “disagree” with this idea.

Chloe Field, the NUS’ vice-president for higher education, said she saw this as a “clear rejection” of the “utterly regressive” idea by students, adding that she felt the measure would “shut down opportunity for all but the richest students to study the broadest range of courses”.

Among other findings:

  • There is a split between students on whether it is the responsibility of their higher education institution to find them a job, with a third believing it is but a third saying it is not and another third in the middle.
  • Forty-six per cent of students are confident they are likely to find their desired job on graduation but a substantial minority are either “quite unconfident” (21 per cent) or “very unconfident” (9 per cent).
  • About half (49 per cent) of students have not used their careers service to date, slightly higher than the proportion who have (43 per cent).

Josh Freeman, the co-author of the report, said that the research showed students want employment to be a “major focus” of their time at university and not an “afterthought”.

Nick Hillman, the director of Hepi, said while higher education was not solely about getting a job, students “quite rightly” want to move on to “fulfilling and rewarding” careers, given the time and money they have invested in their studies.

“This research explains more about what students want, and it is clear their requests are reasonable and proportionate,” he added.

“They want universities and employers to work together to design more courses, they want employers to recognise all of their experiences rather than just their degree results and they want careers services to be accessible and supportive.”

Helping students reach their ambitions requires “dedicated commitment from senior managers, sufficient resources and smart – rather than counterproductive – oversight from regulators and policymakers”, Mr Hillman said.

tom.williams@timeshighereducation.com

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