Students decide to go into higher education for many different reasons.
It might be for the pleasure of learning, or to meet people and enjoy a wider university experience – which we hope will soon feel much more normal – or to get a degree which then leads to a fulfilling career.
Whatever their reasons, and however they decide what course and what subject is right for them, we can all agree that students should be able to access good, independent advice and information while they weigh up their options. That is why the OfS has published a new measure which helps to project how likely students are to both complete their course and then go onto find professional employment.
The measure – Projected completion and employment from entrant data (Proceed) – will provide important information for prospective students. We tested it with universities and colleges, with careers advisers and with the OfS student panel, and it was felt that the measure would be useful to prospective students and their advisers.
Developed with the sector
I know that the measure is controversial with some. It is possible to argue that career outcomes should not be a measure of success. And it is also possible to dispute how OfS have made the calculations.
I accept the first point though it is worth noting that this is how many universities and colleges market their courses -and students should have as much impartial information as they can to assess the veracity of marketing claims. In terms of the calculations, we have adjusted the methodology since we published the data anonymously in December 2020. The changes we have made largely reflect the feedback we received from universities and colleges. It has been a useful and productive exercise, and we continue to seek feedback on what remain experimental statistics.
The changes we have made also help set the data in context, and recognise the challenges in deciding whether particular outcomes should be seen as positive. For example, we have added a sector adjusted average to help users compare the performance of similar types of providers. We have also changed the way in which we assess the outcomes of those graduates who are travelling, caring or retired – making these neutral rather than negative outcomes. And the measure no longer assumes that a student who transfers from one provider to another as having had a negative outcome from their first provider.
A welcome uplift, in context
The result of these changes is that – in those cases – most providers will see that the percentage of students expected to find professional employment has increased when compared with the December 2020 publication. More importantly, the changes mean the quality of information on offer to prospective students has improved.
We recognise that there remain limitations to the measure. We make it clear in the report where results should be treated with particular caution. We understand that the true benefits of a degree are realised through someone’s career, and not just 15 months after graduation. There are also regional differences in the proportions of highly skilled jobs, as well as differences between different groups of students. So it is important to see today’s data – at both a provider and at a subject level – as just part of the picture. But it is an important part, and one that we believe students will want to see.
The OfS does not currently use this indicator in our regulation of individual providers, and any future proposals to do so would be subject to further consultation. We are currently considering responses to our consultation on the regulation of quality – and subject to our analysis of these responses – will set out next steps soon. We are clear though, that students – whatever and wherever they study – all deserve good quality teaching which prepares them for a fulfilling life after graduation, and the publication of this data helps to contribute to that outcome.