Work experience: a good idea in theory

Nearly all undergraduates say placements and advice are valuable, but less than half end up using them, survey finds

April 3, 2014

Source: Alamy

Theory v practice: almost all students said university-industry links were important

Students say they want to engage with the world of work during their degrees but few take up such opportunities, according to a report that raises questions about the quality of services offered by universities.

The Student Employability Index 2014, published by the National Centre for Universities and Business, found that only 38 per cent of students had accessed their institution’s careers service and less than half (47 per cent) had undertaken work experience since starting university.

The report is based on data collected from 4,000 students at 20 English universities. It quizzed them about the quality, value and usage of their careers service, work experience and part-time work.

About 95 per cent said it was important that universities had links with employers and industry.

Aaron Porter, director of external relations at the NCUB, highlighted that figure, along with the finding that actual use of those services “is closer to 40 and 50 per cent”.

He added: “If students are saying that they want this activity but they aren’t taking it up, then perhaps there is more work to be done to improve access to these services or the quality of them.”

Mr Porter said that there was “overwhelming student support” for universities to include industry and business links in degree programmes. “Arguably it is going to become more important, particularly with the focus on employability and securing employment after they graduate,” he added.

When asked which activities would be helpful, more than 90 per cent of students said placements, work experience and internships. Other popular answers were careers advice and services, CV clinics and lectures from industry and business leaders.

Veterinary science courses had the highest proportion of students completing work experience and internships, at over 60 per cent. Conversely, less than 20 per cent of students studying history and philosophy did any work experience.

Degrees in social science, creative arts and design, and biological science had the highest proportion of students saying that courses lacked industry content.

Students originally from the East of England and countries outside the European Union were the most likely of all to access careers services or advice, as were those studying for maths, computer science and business degrees compared with other subjects.

Tim Reed, head of the careers and employability service at the University of Kent, said such data are important. “Apart from the graduate destination survey, there is a limited perspective on how effective schemes supporting students in developing skills and taking steps after graduation are,” he added.

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