The UK Government has just released its Higher Education Green Paper “Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice”, BIS/15/623. This is a wide ranging consultation, but there are interesting aspects of it that will drive a greater focus on graduate employability and career paths after graduation. Why? Because it is recognised that employers want highly skilled graduates who are ready to enter the workforce; and that the country needs people with the knowledge and expertise to help us compete at a global level.
The foreword by Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science states: “While employers report strong demand for graduate talent, they continue to raise concerns about the skills and job readiness of too many in the graduate labour pool. Recent indications that the graduate earnings gap is in decline, and that significant numbers of graduates are going into non-graduate jobs, reinforce the need for action.”
So what is proposed? A Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – a mechanism to identify and incentivise the highest quality teaching to drive up standards in higher education, deliver better quality for students and employers and better value for taxpayers. One of the aims of the TEF is to help employers to identify and recruit graduates with the skills they require by providing better and clearer information about courses and degree outcomes.
Here are some statements from the consultation that put the proposals into context.
- Demand continues to be strong for employees with high level skills; over half of the 14.4 million jobs expected to become vacant between 2012 and 2022 are in occupations more likely to employ graduates. However, at least 20% of graduates are not working in high skilled employment three and a half years after graduation, and most employers of STEM graduates are concerned about shortages of high quality applicants.
- More needs to be done to ensure that providers offering the highest quality courses are recognised and that teaching is valued as much as research. Students expect better value for money; employers need access to a pipeline of graduates with the skills they need; and the taxpayer needs to see a broad range of economic and social benefits generated by the public investment in our higher education system.
- The average graduate is expected to earn comfortably in excess of £100,000 more over their working life compared to someone with only 2 or more A-Levels, the graduate earnings premium is less evident for many and non-existent for some. At least 20% of graduates are not working in high skilled employment three and a half years after graduation.
- Information about the quality of teaching is also vital to UK productivity. In an increasingly globalised world, the highest returns go to the individuals and economies with the highest skills. However, the absence of information about the quality of courses, subjects covered and skills gained makes it difficult for employers to identify and recruit graduates with the right level of skills and harder for providers to know how to develop and improve their courses. For example, the Association of Graduate Recruiters (2015) found that almost a quarter of employers had open vacancies because they couldn’t find the right skills in the most recent graduate cohort.
And why is this really important to employers? As the consultation says in para.14 “TEF should also prove a good deal for employers and the taxpayer. The aim is to improve the teaching that students receive, which in turn should increase their productivity and help them secure better jobs and careers. It should enable employers to make more informed choices about the graduates they recruit, providing better understanding of the range of skills and knowledge they bring from their course, and deliver graduates who are more work ready following an active engagement in their studies. With higher returns, more graduates will be able to pay back more of their loans, reducing the amount that needs to be subsidised by the taxpayer in the longer term. This is on top of the benefits to taxpayers from having a stronger economy powered by a higher skilled workforce.”
For more on the consultation go to: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/higher-education-teaching-excellence-social-mobility-and-student-choice
Dr Deborah Watson, Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.
 UKCES Working Futures 2012-2022 report – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/298510/working-futures-2012-2022-mainreport.pdf
 Longitudinal Destinations of Leavers from HE 10/11 – https://www.hesa.ac.uk/dlhelong1011_contents
 Understanding Employers’ Graduate Recruitment and Selection Practices – BIS research report 231, forthcoming publication
 “Mind the skills gap –whose responsibility is it?” (NCUB, 2015)