Sandwich short of a picnic

Funding system must ensure it does not hamper institutions’ ability to offer work placements crucial to graduate employment

January 10, 2013

How many jobs have you had? Sit down and count them, and the tally can be a surprise.

A straw poll in the Times Higher Education newsroom threw up such unlikely former roles as crematorium assistant, florist, rock band tour manager and umbrella salesman.

The least popular was pot washer (as anyone who has endured the associated scalding water and industrial-strength cleaning fluids will understand), while the most professionally relevant was a stint as a science writer at Cern.

Some of these jobs will have been more rewarding than others but, in general, wide experience, even in completely unrelated fields, is a positive in journalism.

In our cover feature, Toby Miller, professor of cultural industries at City University London, considers whether this is also the case in academia.

With stints as a radio DJ (broadcasting a message), ditch digger (putting your back into it) and corporate consultant (enough said), Miller’s CV is packed with useful experience, and it seems unlikely he would have learned as much had he taken a more linear path.

Universities should also be mindful of “messy” career paths, since this is what most students will need to prepare for.

Few graduates outside the most vocational disciplines know exactly what they will end up doing, and many may make their careers in jobs or industries that do not yet exist.

Having said that, employability is an absolutely key concern for students at present, and this is increasingly shaping the public debate around the value of higher education.

In one recent television news package, a young woman who left a highly selective university with a degree in economics spoke of her frustration at failing to find appropriate work.

“I felt like I’d worked hard to get on in life but in the end my degree got me nowhere. It was a waste of time,” she said.

The view went unchallenged, and acceptance that a graduate without a graduate job has been somehow duped seems dangerously common.

One way to improve graduates’ chances is through sandwich courses, which ensure they get invaluable “real-world” experience.

At Harper Adams University, where almost all do a placement year in industry, 98.3 per cent of graduates are in work or further study after six months. This is the third highest proportion in the country, behind only the Institute of Education and School of Pharmacy.

But institutions which use and advocate sandwich courses are facing difficult decisions.

From 2014, it is proposed that the tuition fee charged during a sandwich year should be capped at a figure likely to be 15 per cent of the normal fee - so if an institution charges £9,000 a year (as does Harper Adams) the maximum allowed would be £1,350.

This might seem fair enough but it is well below the £3,000 or so that institutions claim it costs them to facilitate placements - covering everything from maintaining a network of private-sector partners, to health and safety requirements to on-site visits.

If a cap means that it costs universities twice as much to administer sandwich years as the sum they get for the job, the danger is that some will simply pull the plug.

And if that affects employment rates, it’s a price that’s not worth paying.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy

sitting by statue

Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study