We're so clever, students claim...

But undergraduates' confidence in their abilities isn't echoed by employers, as Jack Grove reports

January 5, 2012

Credit: Corbis
A head for numbers? Graduates' numeracy skills are not highly rated

Students tend to rate their abilities more highly than employers, according to the latest stage of a continuing study of almost 50,000 undergraduates.

The Futuretrack study, run by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (Hecsu), has followed a cohort of students throughout their university careers, with the third stage assessing those finishing their final year.

Nearly 75 per cent of finalists said their written communication skills were either "excellent" or "very good", while 67 per cent rated their computer literacy highly.

Sixty-three per cent said their verbal communication skills were excellent or very good, while the figure was 57 per cent for creativity and leadership skills.

However, they were less bullish about their numeracy skills, with only 15 per cent rating themselves excellent and 30 per cent very good.

The students' confident evaluation of their overall abilities contrasts with a more critical assessment from employers.

The study's authors, Gaby Atfield and Kate Purcell, from the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick, note that only 55 per cent of employers were satisfied with graduates' work-related skills, according to a 2007 report by the Institute of Directors.

Just a quarter of employers said they felt young people - graduates and non-graduates - were well-prepared for work, while 40 per cent said they were underprepared.

"Some studies suggest that employers feel graduates' skills are not so high, particularly in relation to numeracy," said Jane Artess, director of research at Hecsu. "I think (these findings show that) students are aware that their numeracy is not as strong as their literacy skills."

The report also examines how students felt their universities had developed their skills.

Almost 90 per cent said their degree had helped to improve their research skills "very much" or "quite a lot", while a similar proportion credited it for helping to lift their writing and critical analysis abilities.

But only 20 per cent of students felt their degree had improved their entrepreneurial skills, and just under 40 per cent felt it had helped their IT knowledge. Such a gloomy assessment of business-related skills was perhaps unwarranted, Ms Artess said, since "research skills are very important in business".

Asked what three attributes they believed were most important to employers, 33 per cent of students said a good work ethic, 28 per cent said good communication skills and 24 per cent said teamwork. Only 1 per cent listed commercial awareness, 2 per cent said numeracy and 4 per cent cited computer skills.


The final stage of the Futuretrack study will focus on graduates who applied to university in 2005-06. For more information, or to take part, visit: http://bit.ly/tPOCyI.

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