Wednesday, November 30, 2005

UK Student Employment Research, Continued

More on the research into term time working and the effect that trying to stay out of debt has on university students in the UK.

Claire Callendar writes this in the Guardian.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Office of National Statistics To Be Independent

Interesting manoeuvre from Gordon Brown, announcing that (at long last) the Office for National Statistics is to become independent of government. It's always popular for pundits and politicians alike to proclaim that the Stats Office is biased when figures come out that don't support their pet theories, but this might help head all of that off.

Mind you, Vincent Cable then went on to say that 'independent' statisticians need to be appointed, which implies that he thinks that the current employees are irretrievably tainted by Labour bias. It will also be interesting to see what the Conservatives do when they get back into power. George Osborne has welcomed the move (to an extent), by the old political trick of claiming that it only happened because he advised the Chancellor to do it. He also wants the Audit Commission to go independent as well, which is a pretty sensible idea.

Not much in the way of graduate job news there, but it's an important labour market information story. One of the best bits of the ONS is the Neighbourhood Survey, which is always well worth looking at if you want to see how your street compares with your neighbours on things like crime rate and school achievement.

Friday, November 25, 2005

'Survey of higher education students' attitudes to debt' - Suppressed or not?

Lots of coverage of 'the study Universities UK Tried To Suppress' in the press. And it ties in with graduate employment, so here we go.

The research, is called "Survey of higher education students' attitudes to debt and term-time working and their impact on attainment".

It was conducted by a very good research team, with an established track record in the field, including Claire Callendar of South Bank University and Brenda Little of CHERI at the Open University, looked at student attitudes to debt and got some good soundbites from the usual NUS and government suspects. But what does it really say?

The study was based on 1,500 questionnaire returns from a postal survey of final year UK domiciled finalists from seven universities, that was sent out in March-April 2002.

The majority of students 'took a pragmatic attitude to debt', but it particularly worried certain groups who are already under-represented at universities, and who are also more likely to work in term-time; older students, those from lower social classes and single parents.

68% worked during their final two years, and the main reasons were to 'pay for things they needed to survive' and because students' families were unable to help financially - again, older students and those from lower social classes were most likely to cite these reasons. Work experience was a reason for less than half of those working ('a distraction from study' was also mentioned!)

Whilst the authors state that the study cannot definitively say that working during term time directly results in poor academic performance, more than half of students who did work stated that they felt that they produced poorer quality assignments, and more than 80% said that they spent less time on independent study and reading. Students were more likely to say that their academic work suffered the more hours that they worked. And the study did find that, other known factors taken into account, students who worked got lower marks. To quote:

"For a student working 16 hours a week, the odds of getting a good degree (i.e. 2(i) and above) to not getting a good degree are about 60% of the odds for a similar non-working student"

Their conclusion is that term-time working can be a factor to explain why some students who work do worse than those who don't (rather than it just being a social product of the people who are doing the work, for example, and not the work directly).

There is not yet a great body of work on student attitudes to debt, and the effect it does have. It is taken as an article of faith by some that it does deter entry and cause problems, whilst others argue that it's an important rite of passage for the move into employment and helps students get skills they need whilst also earning money. But only a few studies exist and those are largely under old financial systems.

This kind of work reinforces some older studies that suggest that term-time working does result in reduced performance, and it is easy to make the link that lots of work leads to less study time and tired students which leads to poor results. The difficulty is that this conclusion is also a bit of cognitive bias and isn't yet completely supported by the data - and that's where we have to be very careful. What we need is more, good research that can settle the question.

In the meantime, here's the study.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

What Do Graduates Do

The annual review of graduate destinations for the UK, 'What Do Graduates Do?' is now out. The publication has moved from the not-for-profit careers information organisation, Graduate Prospects, to their parent charity, the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, but is still produced with AGCAS and has only changed a little otherwise.

The BBC picked up on the received-opinion-busting fact that Media Studies graduates are amongst the most employable right off the bat (Challenge stereotypes! ), whilst the Guardian went for a more in-depth analysis leading on reduced unemployment rates for graduates ( Unemployment down 0.5%).

In the publication, there's cause for optimism and for concern. The IT recession, had already started abating by the start of this year and prospects for beleagured computing graduates now look rosier. But physics looks to be in a very worrying state. The University of Buckingham's work was flagged earlier in the week, and the figures for first destinations of 2004 physicists do give some alarm. Physics graduates have a relatively high unemployment rate, and those that do go straight into work don't do physics. Fortunately, there are still a good quarter going on to postgraduate study, and 4.1% are going on to study for PGCEs, so it looks like we're not completely out of physics teachers yet.

Find What Do Graduates Do 2006 here