Survey pleads for career emphasis

May 23, 1997

UNIVERSITIES must become more career-minded if their students are to have a chance in the cut-throat graduate jobs market, employers have warned, writes Harriet Swain.

A survey of 12,000 finalists published this week showed that just three months before they left university, fewer than half of the students questioned had applied for work and only a quarter expected to start a graduate job when they left.

But this varied from 63 per cent of students at Aston University to just 28 per cent at the University of Leeds. And while 50 per cent of Aston graduates expected a graduate job, among Leeds graduates the figure dropped to 17 per cent. Career hopes are likely to be even lower elsewhere, since the survey only covered 24 institutions most favoured by employers.

Martin Birchall, director of the independent market research company High Fliers Research Limited, which conducted the survey, said: "Employers and taxpayers believe students go to university to improve their job prospects but if students haven't taken time out for work experience they aren't marketable."

He said students were tending to overestimate their value as graduates, relying only on their degree to secure them work. More than one in ten had no definite plans after university. But he also blamed careers services, especially as the number of job vacancies was actually up 12 per cent.

The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services' report next month on the future of careers services is designed to secure a role for careers services in any discussions following Sir Ron Dearing's review of higher education and help even out differences in the quality of student support.

The report will examine a number of radical solutions, including privatising the services.

Roly Cockman, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said: "The support that students receive varies enormously.

"This can make a huge difference when the number of students has increased so much over the last few years, without anything like the same increase in the number of jobs."

Employers, whose recruitment budgets have been slashed over the last few years, are targetting a shrinking pool of institutions.

According to Mr Cockman, they choose only the universities "likely to produce the people who will fit readily into their culture".

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