It’s easy to start with the graduate. They picked the course and the university, they know themselves better than everyone else and they are choosing to invest time and money in the university experience. But graduates don’t know what they don’t know. That’s why they came to university in the first place.
So the if the university has all the expertise, surely it must be their responsibility? Universities educate, challenge and stimulate the mind. Most universities now offer on campus jobs, and many have job shops or recruitment agencies. Universities have employers on campus, selling their scheme and industry to budding graduates. More and more universities are now offering and promoting placement years to ensure students have work experience under their belt as well as promising global opportunities for students wanting to study or work abroad.
There couldn’t be more initiatives to support students before and after they graduate.
Other answers are available
The other alternative answers are probably parents and employers. Parents – many are whom are students themselves, certainly encourage the younger generation to pick what they enjoy and ideally what they have excelled at at school and college. The question is how many sports scientists, historians, geologists, psychologists or museum studies graduates do we really need.
Parents think that universities are somehow matching supply and demand with the employers they work in close partnership with? No, and neither is FE as a sector. I was once told that for every ten places to do hairdressing at a college there is actually one job. There’s oversupply in many areas and huge skills gaps in others.
And then there’s employers. They appear to want everything – a first class degree, work experience, a placement year, volunteering, at least four different languages, and you must have grade eight in in at least fourteen musical instruments. But that’s not really true – they really want a self aware, educated, hungry to learn communicator.
So with approximately four hundred thousand students graduating from universities every year, why are around one hundred thousand of them not in graduate level employment or equivalent six months after graduation. We are certainly not coding jobs correctly, which can slant these statistics, but when you factor in the individuals that go on to further study and then still can’t get a job, it’s probably true that we are failing at least a quarter of our graduates if not more.
Maybe they never wanted a graduate level job. Perhaps they still don’t have the belief they can secure one. Maybe universities haven’t communicated the umpteen initiatives that can help. We could be consciously (or more likely subconsciously) telling students to just concentrate on their academic studies. Parents might be encouraging students choosing the wrong degree subjects. And perhaps universities are offering too many non-vocational courses.
As ever the answers to the problem are complex. It would help if parents challenged students to think about the end goal and plan past university. Students should get more involved in all the amazing initiatives on offer at university.
Universities have a role to play too. People assume that we constantly check, confirm and evidence that students understand, can explain, implement and use the skills we have been teaching. Yet we claim to have supported students to develop personally often without checking or confirming this. Some subjects, schools and universities are better than others for embedding this into courses – but why are we hiding it?
What do students need?
In my view, students need four things:
- To understand the skills they have and need to further develop
- To have opportunities to develop skills
- To learn how to articulate the skills that they have gained and explain how they have gained them
- To explore different career pathways and options
Should every university teach these skills explicitly, and confirm that students have them before awarding a degree? We don’t want this to be a tick box exercise or a formal exam, but something challenging and fair that evidences that all four hundred thousand graduates have been personally developed and given a fighting chance would help. Whether we call it employability, life skills or personal development doesn’t matter as long as it happens.
If this happened employers would be happy, parents would be happy, universities would be happy and of course most importantly graduates would be getting the value for money they deserve – strengthening the UK and global economies.
It sounds simple and if anyone can do it, surely it’s some of the brightest minds the world has to offer in our UK universities. I am passionate about making this dream a reality at Staffordshire University and I know of many colleagues across the UK are driving this agenda forward.