UUK developing ‘wider framework’ on value beyond earnings

Proposed new measures, intended to ‘inform’ government, include proportion of graduates working in ‘essential public services’

February 11, 2020
Source: Getty

Universities UK is working on the development of a “wider framework of value indicators”, beyond just graduate earnings, to “inform” the government as it scrutinises value for money and quality in higher education, according to its president.

Julia Buckingham addressed the subject of value – where there will be political pressure on universities following the Conservative manifesto pledge to “tackle the problem of…low quality courses” in higher education – in a speech to an Advance HE event in London on 11 February.

After describing graduate earnings as “one – but not the only – component in measuring value”, the Brunel University London vice-chancellor said: “A wider framework of value indicators would enable the sector – and others – to assess the impact of specific courses, particularly where reservations exist around how outcomes differ to those for an individual did not go to university at all.

“UUK is committed to building such a framework, which could help inform government and the wider debate and it could also be used as contextual information by institutions when they’re reviewing their portfolio of courses.”

The University of Sunderland recently attracted criticism for its decision to close its history, politics and languages courses as part of a shift to a “career-focused” curriculum.

UUK added in a statement further to Professor Buckingham’s speech that proposed new measures would “include the proportion of graduates working in essential public services, the number taking positions in sectors and regions with skills shortages, or the likelihood of a graduate starting their own business”.

It added that the “new framework” on defining value “will shortly be presented to government to help identify what the wider themes of that approach might be”.

The government has been criticised by many in the sector for its perceived over-reliance on Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data on graduate earnings by course and by university.

Professor Buckingham said questions about value were “legitimate” and that “under the new Conservative government, these concerns are not likely to go away”.

But she said much of the debate has “often lacked nuance” in “failing to look beyond salary outcomes”. To “address concerns about poor value, then first we should ask what value means to those who are at the heart of the system – not politicians, not newspaper columnists, but today’s students”, Professor Buckingham argued.

Recent UUK polling found that “only one in three students and recent graduates say they decided to go to university to get a higher salary than they otherwise would have” – instead emphasising interest in their subject, enjoyment in learning and taking first steps to career building, she added.

She emphasised the “serious limitations” of LEO data, which did not take account of regional earnings variations or the impact on earnings of “external economic activity” such as the financial crisis.

After taking up her UUK role last year, Professor Buckingham told Times Higher Education that she would make it a priority to counter policy focus on graduate earnings by communicating that the value of a degree is “not all about earning money”.


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Reader's comments (1)

The idea that graduate earnings are the measure of the quality of a particular course is completely daft! For a start, consider a profession like investment banking - it's well paid, but takes graduates from any discipline. So by this rubbish metric, a whole raft of courses are 'of value' because people who have studied them have gone to work in investment banking. Yet what real use is such a parasitic trade to society as a whole? Surely teachers, healthcare delivers and social workers do more good for society, yet they are not paid as well.