US dominance on graduate employability ‘overplayed’

Using student population figures puts results of Global University Employability Ranking in context

January 8, 2019
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Observers of higher education rankings are accustomed to universities from the US dominating many of the top spots.

Last year’s Global University Employability Ranking, based on which institutions’ graduates are seen as the best by employers worldwide, was no exception: six institutions from the country featured in the top 10 and 34 in the top 150.

Although this represented a decline compared with previous years, it was still far ahead of any other nation.

But a new analysis of the ranking suggests that the US is actually a long way behind on graduate employability when the size of its student population is also taken into account.

Human resources consultancy Emerging and employment research institute Trendence, which together compile the employability ranking, compared aggregate scores for each country or region in the list – based on each university’s position – with data on student populations.

The results suggest that despite the US dominating the ranking, its performance is much weaker when considering that millions of students graduate from institutions without a global reputation among firms.

Topping the index by some distance is Switzerland, with the Netherlands and Sweden also performing strongly. The UK comes ahead of the US and other English-speaking nations such as Australia and Canada, while densely populated emerging countries such as China and India come bottom.

Laurent Dupasquier, associate director of Emerging, said that countries such as Switzerland, “which tend to have a very vocational approach in their curriculum” or close cooperation with industry, tended to do better in the index “than some countries that traditionally appeared to dominate the global rankings”.

“The fact that a small country like Switzerland with a very limited number of universities and higher education students places regularly five to seven institutions in the top 150 gives a clear indication that, in terms of performance, it must be doing something better than the others.”

Various sources for student population data were used to calculate the index score, with some statistics excluding postgraduates or those studying at more vocationally oriented institutions.

Using a standard data source and definitions on student numbers – such as from Unesco’s Institute for Statistics – does not alter the overall finding that Switzerland has the best performance and that the US is towards the bottom of the list.

However, the Netherlands’ score is not as strong if students attending universities of applied sciences – hogescholen – are also included in the figures rather than just those enrolled at the country’s research-intensive institutions.

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