The live blog of the joint Wonkhe and HESA conference on the future of the DLHE. See the agenda in full here and stay up to date with the discussions below. #NewDLHE.
It’s been a thoroughly interesting morning with some suitably wonky discussions with a wide variety of perspectives on offer.
We conclude with some quick words from Mark Leach, thanking HESA, our sponsors EMSI, and all our attendees. The HESA consultation can be found here and the deadline to respond is Thursday 14th July.
Have a great afternoon
Here are some selected tweets on the #newDLHE hashtag that give a flavour of the discussions taking place.
— Mark Leach (@markmleach) July 4, 2016
Liz Bromley: Survey should capture what graduates *are* doing, not what they’re *classified* as doing. We must allow for narratives #NewDLHE
— HESA UK (@ukhesa) July 4, 2016
Left wondering who DLHE is 4. Students for choice? Universities for measurement? Government for ROI? Love to hear more on gov needs #newDLHE
— Paul Spendlove (@pspluv) July 4, 2016
Ensure that a discussion about resilience isn’t just about piling more work and stress on students needlessly #newDLHE
— Alan Roberts (@the_alan) July 4, 2016
Careful what you wish for. Creating a 'narrative dlhe' could make it more likely that league tables/gov will just use tax data #newdlhe
— Martin Edmondson (@martinedmondson) July 4, 2016
Dan Cook and Charlie Ball have joined Gary Sprules on our panel. Charlie suggests that we need to be better at evaluating what is currently good at doing. He says that he is in favour of measuring at 6 months, primarily because it guarantees a good response rate. He suggests that in a few years time everyone will gather together to criticise the new metrics because the data is always imperfect.
Dan argues that earnings and education data will be linked whether the higher education sector likes it or not: it was not included in the Enterprise Bill on a whim. Ministers and civil servants want to see it. The sector needs to engage with the use of this data and make sure that is used in its best interests. Ensuring that the accompanying survey has a high response rate will be absolutely vital to ensuring that the linked datasets on salaries are properly contextualised. That might require a continued use of the 6 month break.
A comment from the floor suggests that the current DLHE survey can be used to engage with alumni who are struggling and to offer them careers advice. Centralising the survey will prevent institutions from doing this.
Our chair, Louisa Darian asks for a show of hands on centralisation. A majority of attendees in the room are opposed to it.
We are now onto our final panel, which begins with Gary Sprules from the University of the Arts, London.
Gary begins by explaining that linking datasets between HESA and HMRC will give a much clearer picture of graduate salaries and outcomes than we have presently, as shown by the recent IFS research. It is important for it to be properly contextualised – we do not know how the data will be presented and commented on. Nonetheless, if there are uncomfortable realities for institutions to face up to then they need to be confronted anyway.
There are some significant limitations, particularly regarding international students. A institution like UAL will not be able to get information for half of their graduates. There is some concern about whether HESA will be able to share the linked data with individual providers, who will want access the data in order to use it properly. Overall, there is a fear that linking datasets will overemphasise the economic gains of higher education and no others, and it is very important the sector makes it very clear to HESA and BIS that this cannot be the only measure for the TEF.
We now move onto the opportunities and risks from centralising data collection. Some fear that centralisation will reduce survey responses and cut ties between institutions and their graduates, and limit the level of data that institutions can access. We do not yet know whether it will provide the cost benefits hoped for.
On the other hand, if TEF and league tables make comparative use of data unavoidable, then it is vital that this data is collected consistently and known to be robust and reliable. A mixed approach may be possible by centralising the data collection but allowing institutions to devise their own ‘custom’ questions as on the NSS.
Terry Dray: If we could get closer to graduates deciding whether they are successful or not when surveyed, then that would would be a significant step forward. SOC codes 1-3 is just too simplistic.
We now have two questions about whether diversifying and enriching the range of data collected will impact league tables and also be irrelevant to international students. Liz Bromley’s answer is succinct: “change the league tables”.
Two final questions. The first about is measuring ‘value added’ from universities and accounting for graduates’ social and cultural capital in their employment success. The second is about the challenging ‘cognitive dissonance’ of measuring employment in the creative industries which is both precarious and fulfilling.
We are informed by Dan Cook that the Office for National Statistics are revising SOC data and that HESA and many universities are responding to their consultation. This has included pressure to help SOC better account for creative industry careers. That consultation can be found here.
James Evans reminds us that we need to use data to create an intelligible narrative for students and applicants. Students do not use data in isolation.
Liz Bromley of Goldsmiths: “University should be a life defining experience, and however your life is defined we should hope find a way of capturing this”. She lists a range of Goldsmiths’ graduates who have succeeded in the arts and music, and asks whether the 6 month DLHE would capture them as “successful graduates”? Probably not, but they include winners of the Mercury Prize and Turner Prize.
Nonetheless, data does evaluate and measure universities’ performance whether they like it or not. The data needs to shape how universities consider what they do, but not necessarily shape what they do.
Students spend 75% of their time not on their academic studies. We should capture if and how this contributes to their development and education. Similarly, we should capture what students are doing outside of their work. New graduate destinations data should tell universities the full round of how they are spending their time.
“We are not creating a graduate factory, but we are supporting students to become graduates, to become adults, to become employees and to become thinkers”.
Graduate success is linear and developmental, and capture longitudinal data over time. “Salary is immaterial. The highest value jobs do not necessarily pay the best salaries”. It should capture the full range of work: employment, self-employment, entrepreneurial work, portfolio careers etc.
Terry Dray is Co-Chair of the AGCAS Graduate Labour Market Committee and Director of Graduate Advancement at Liverpool John Moores University.
He begins by arguing that the current SOC coding in the DLHE is far too rigid and does not reflect the new working-world. It has been a frustration for graduate careers advisers that many students wish to be employed in occupations outside of the sought-after SOC 1-3 categories (‘professional occupations’) and jobs that do not command the highest salaries. Universities are currently incentivised to encourage them elsewhere.
The new DLHE has a range of measurement options that will need to be considered. Linking the data to HMRC, DWP and other HESA data will be comprehensive, consistent, and reach survey non-respondents, but there is a fear that it could be one-dimensional and dominate the discourse around outcomes. A survey is essential to fill gaps and add context: the local/regional context; migration patterns; the nature and type of work being done.
More subjective measures will be important, but there is a considerable question about how much the higher education experience is a causal factor of wellbeing, happiness and satisfaction. But understanding graduate motives, ambitions and hopes/fears through qualitative data could be very useful for universities to know if they could provide better support, advice and guidance. Subjective measures will rely on graduates’ ability to reflect on, evaluate and even remember their university experience. Care will be needed in designing the questions and framing the issues.
Our second panel has begun. James Evans of CFE Research is introducing findings on student choice and information, and the ongoing literature review being conducted on HESA’s behalf about student use of graduate outcomes data.
James begins by highlighting how the “post-choice experience” nature of higher education makes it particularly challenging for students making choices. Students use a wide variety of information, but behavioural economics has shown that more information is not necessarily a good thing for better choices. Economic and financial factors are important in choices, but they are not necessarily “critical factors” in decision making, particularly because they are often so out of the applicants’ control.
Evidence shows that whether, where and what to study is determined by whether it “feels right”. Informal networks and personal support networks are the most trusted sources of information for applicants, much more so than formal sources of information. Where applicants have a shortfall of cultural capital, this can often lead to decisions being made based on the wrong information.
So what are the lessons for a sector which has prioritised creating new forms of formal information? The most important lesson is to frame applicants and their networks’ opinions early-on. 16 or 17 years old is often too late for those who have an aversion to applying, particularly working-class boys.
Information overload is a considerable challenge and can create confusion: there are at least 43 websites claiming to give information about universities, outside of providers own websites.
We now move to a break, and will be back in 15 minutes.
Stephen Isherwood is asked whether the apprenticeship levy will be “a cash cow for business schools” and if ‘non-relevant’ degrees will be phased out by many employers (i.e. history, philosophy, english literature etc.). He replies that he doesn’t believe the latter will happen. Many employers who are relaxed about the subject studied by their graduates find they perform exceptionally well and will not want to change.
Mary Stuart: “I don’t think we will see the destruction of history degrees. They may have to transform, but then again, we are the 21st century and so will need to”.
Our chair Mark Leach begins by asking Sorana Vieru about NUS’s policy to ‘sabotage’ the DLHE. Sorana says that NUS is encouraging students and students’ unions to engage with HESA’s review of the DLHE and that the proposed sabotage policy was passed before the review began, and is primarily because of the way the DLHE will be used in the TEF.
That neatly brings us onto a discussion about the DLHE and the TEF. Mary Stuart clarifies that our discussion is taking place in the context of the TEF and that the current DLHE will be used in the first few years of the TEF. Sorana argues that NUS’s position is that there is no link between teaching quality and employment outcomes, but Stephen Isherwood argues that many employers do believe that the quality of particular courses does influence employers recruitment decisions.
Stephen Isherwood is asked about how graduate recruiters are changing their recruitment strategies, and that many of the big employers, including the ‘big four’ professional services firms, have gradually been diversifying beyond ‘graduates only’ policies. Nonetheless, the apprenticeship levy will be a catalyst for more change because it will cost large firms a substantial amount of money and require a refocusing of training and recruitment budgets.
Mary is asked about Lincoln’s approach to degree apprenticeships. She says that it’s a slow development as the new Trailblazer frameworks have taken time to be developed. She believes that the health sector in particular will move towards degree apprenticeships at diploma level and that this will have a big impact on many universities that have links with health sector employers.
Our first panel discussion has begun, and we open with Mary Stuart, Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln.
Stuart begins with emphasising that success in the graduate labour market is a “dynamic situation” and cannot be evaluated in a fixed time-period. External factors affect graduates’ prospects as much as the education they receive, as shown by Charlie Ball’s presentation.
Stuart emphasises the geographical diversity in labour market prospects, pointing to Lincolnshire’s continued economic struggles: “people said we won’t feel the recession because we never had a boom”. Stuart makes the case for wider societal benefits of higher education and producing graduates: “we lost that argument but we need to go back to it”.
Stephen Isherwood of the Association of Graduate Recruiters begins by saying we make two mistakes when thinking about the UK labour market. Firstly, the UK labour market is completely different to many other countries. Companies are far more likely to employ graduates who did subjects not connected to their occupation, such as recruiting historians into accountancy. Secondly, the graduate labour market is really many different and distinct labour markets, but too often we generalise.
There is a mismatch in information for students and recent graduates about where skills shortages exist and what opportunities are available. Many graduates are unsure about what they want to do.
Isherwood concludes by suggesting that the apprenticeship levy could fundamentally change how employers approach recruitment. Demand for degree apprentices could be substantially increased.
We conclude with Sorana Vieru of NUS. She begins by arguing that the current debate over the TEF and the HE Bill may restrict the range of our thinking on such a wide-ranging question. The question goes to the heart of political debates within students and within NUS that have been taking place in recent years, and Vieru has argued that the student interest lies primarily in influencing the state of the labour market, which is becoming increasingly polarised. She suggests that economic issues are often being confused with educational issues.
NUS welcome the HESA consultation paper – “it’s rare that we praise new initiatives in the sector, so props to HESA”. It is most important to measure social and civic outcomes of higher education beyond graduate salaries.
“We lost a big argument a couple of weeks ago”, argues Charlie Ball. The non-graduate half of the population does not see the value for the whole of society brought by the graduate half of the sector. Outcomes data should demonstrate public value for higher education to prove its worth.
Charlie takes us through the separate shocks of Brexit: the uncertainty caused prior to the referendum, the uncertainty after the vote, and the likely shock that occurs once withdrawal from the EU is complete.
Prior to the vote, recruitment had already slowed. Recruitment decisions were paused in February, around the time Boris Johnson declared for the Leave campaign.
Looking at unemployment rates for graduates our time since the 1970s, we see that graduates tend to have similar unemployment shocks during recessions, as happened in the late 1970s, the early 1990s and the late 2000s. Expect 10,000 to 20,000 more graduates to suffer with either unemployment or non-professional employment as a result of the coming downturn.
The sectors most affected will be finance, industries reliant on research and development, and higher education itself. Sectors that employ postgraduates will be affected particularly badly.
Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence at Graduate Prospects, has begun his presentation on the past, present and future graduate labour markets. He begins by describing the pre-Brexit graduate labour market as ‘happy days’ that may now be lost. We shall see…
Charlie introduces us to the prime graduate skills-shortages vacancies: HR professionals, software developers, retails managers, primary teachers, secondary teachers, nurses, quantity surveyors and civil engineers. Brexit will probably exacerbate these gaps, though a downturn in construction may lead to less demand for the latter two occupations.
In the past eleven years, there has been a colossal increase in the number of graduates in the workforce, and the recession only accelerated this increase. The post-Brexit downturn will only increase this. In an economic downturn, people with lower-level qualifications are squeezed out of the labour market the most.
Over the past eleven years, 2.5 million new ‘graduate level’ jobs have been created. On the flipside, the highest paid non-graduate jobs have decreased substantially. The only major non-graduate sector to grow has been in the care sector. Graduates have been insulated from changes in the rest of the economy.
Attendees at today’s event might be interested in a new report from the Centre for Global Higher Education, coincidentally released just before today’s event.
The report is entitled “Should governments of OECD countries worry about graduate over-education?” – it can be read here. The abstract is below.
Dan Cook runs us through the four main aims of the Destinations and Outcomes Review:
- Future proofing the DLHE – Graduate outcomes data needs to be relevant to a rapidly shifting economy and a rapidly changing higher education sector.
- Improving efficiency – Because data collection is carried about by higher education institutions, we currently do not know how much it costs to run the DLHE. One question being considered is whether all or part of the data collection should be centralised with HESA. Linking datasets is also now possible due to the Enterprise Act, and should improve efficiency.
- Fit-for-purpose method – Many have critiqued aspects of the current DLHE methodology, including how graduates have to self-report their outcomes (particularly around salary) but also the timing of collection. Few in the sector are fans of collecting data 6 months after graduation. The Enterprise Act has
- Supporting legislation – The data collected will need to be used across all four UK nations, three of which have devolved governments.
Perhaps the biggest question being considered is whether new measures can be introduced to evaluate graduate outcomes that are not related to graduate salaries. HESA has suggested new measures such as student engagement, a net promoters score, subjective wellbeing, and skills acquired.
Dan Cook, Head of Collections Development at HESA, has begun by giving us an overview of HESA’s strategic objectives and the context in which the DLHE review is taking place.
The DLHE survey has been around for nearly fourteen years. Prior to the DLHE, a national survey collected data on graduate outcomes from the mid-90s onwards, but universities have been collecting information on their graduates’ destinations since at least the 1930s.
The DLHE was devised before many of the ways in which it is used, such as KIS, Unistats, and many league tables.
The current DLHE has much to commend it, but there are a number of criticisms that have given impetus for review.
Mark Leach opens today’s event with a thank you to HESA, our organising partners, and EMSI, today’s sponsors.
Mark reflects on how the past week’s events have often felt very much outside of the sector’s control, and why it is more important than ever to get to work on vital issues such as graduate destinations that will determine the future of the sector.
We have an exciting agenda for today’s event, packed with interesting speakers from across the higher education sector. To whet your appetite for some of the themes under discussion you can read our summary of the issues raised in the HESA consultation document.
9am – Mark Leach, Director and Editor in Chief of Wonkhe, will open proceedings with a welcome and introduction.
9.10am – Dan Cook, Head of Collections Development at HESA, will introduce us to HESA’s DLHE consultation document.
9.35am – Charlie Ball, Head of HE Intelligence at Graduate Prospects, will present an overview of the past, present and future of graduate labour market trends.
10am – Our first panel will discuss ‘What does success in the labour market look like?’ Our panelists are Sorana Vieru, Vice-President (HE) at NUS; Mary Stuart, Vice Chancellor at the University of Lincoln; and Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters.
11am – Our second panel will discuss more technical questions about data size and shape. Our panelists are James Evans, Senior Research Manager at CFE Research; Terry Dray, Director of Graduate Advancement at LJM University; and Liz Bromley, Registrar & Secretary at Goldsmiths.
12am – Our final panel will discuss the future of surveying graduate outcomes, including LEO and earnings data. Our panelists are Gary Sprules, Director of Planning at University of the Arts, London; Dan Cook, and Charlie Ball.
We will be getting underway in about 15 minutes.
The live blog will get underway as the event starts at 9am on Monday morning.