Friday, February 24, 2006

Study Medicine: Get The Job You Want

Today's survey (warning! PDF) is one of 3000 UK medical graduates from 2003-5, conducted by the General Medical Council. It's not exactly a surprise to find that being a medical student gives a good guarantee of a good job, but the interesting thing is in the detail.

95% of all students were working as doctors (and 99% of those were in the NHS, with military medical posts the next most popular) at the time of the survey, and the majority of those that weren't were doing it out of choice.

However, 2%, or 67 graduates, were not working as doctors and wanted to be - although almost all of them had worked as a doctor since graduating.

The number of medical students graduating has remained relatively steady for a number of years, and this implies that we're training about the right number at the moment.

There's some interesting things in there about specialisation, and the future plans of young doctors as well. Well worth a read (and it isn't too long).

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Academic Staff Numbers Up

Figures out this week from HESA show that the number of academic staff at universities increased by 6.9% between 2003/4 and 2004/5, to 160,655.

The number of non-academic staff has fallen slightly, but that is also linked to a reporting error with last year's Open University figures.

The figures also show that whilst women make up the majority of university students, only 15.8% of professors, and 29% of senior lecturers are women.

This rise in staff numbers is particularly interesting in light of the forthcoming strike action from the members of NATFHE and the AUT. Academic salaries are have been getting steadily less competitive for years, whilst the job is becoming harder and less attractive, but with 160,655 pay rises perhaps in the offing, you can see why the sector is resisting.

Bear in mind, though, that the total academic staff at universities at the UK is about two thirds the size of a single graduating cohort, and, depending on counting methodology, about 7% of the total number of students studing in the UK - at last count, 2,247,440.

In other words, we currently have an average of 1 academic for every 14 students in the UK. That sounds about right to me.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Social mobility unlinked to education?

First up, a quick link back to this post, about research finding that the social sciences are facing some skills issues in the future. The report is now out, and can be found here.

Research from the Centre of Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University suggests that education policy alone contributes little to social mobility, and that wealth redistribution is much more effective.

The researchers, Dr Cristina Iannelli and Professor Lindsay Paterson, examined Scottish social survey data from 1910 onwards, and found that since the abolition of selective schools in Scotland in the 1970s, there has been no impact from educational reform on upward social mobility.

Dr. Iannelli said,
Upward mobility has been common for at least five decades, and the parents of people born since the 1960s have themselves benefited from it to such an extent that there is less room for their children to move further up.

This leads to questions about the introduction of variable tuition fees in Scotland. Dr. Iannelli is concerned about the consequences if the most popular universities bring in higher fees.
The best labour market rewards might then go to graduates from the highest status universities populated by the most middle-class students. In such circumstances, social inequality would at best remain unchanged, and could start to worsen for the first time in at least half a century

Not a good scenario at all, and obviously relevant to the rest of the UK.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

University applications down. A bit.

Almost tangible disappointment from the press today as the UCAS admissions figures failed to produce any desperately scandalous figures.

An idea of what the papers seemed to be hoping for is given by the Guardian, here, but in the end, we got a small fall in applicant numbers, of about 3.4% (down 12,941 on last year), which is not dissimilar to the figures the year the last round of student fee changes came in. Of course, the year after the numbers rose again, and the really interesting figures will be this time next year.

There's not a great deal of pattern to the changes - there are falls in the number of applications for the overwhelmingly popular law and psychology courses - but for every chamistry application, we still have 4 psychology application, so I don't see those two falling down an abyss any time soon (80,929 applications to law, the most popular course, 74,151 for psychology, 18,760 for chemistry). Equally, the changes are spread over region and socio-economic class (although applications from Wales are up).

The NUS is right to an extent to say that the fall in numbers is down to tuition fees, but as is typical, overexaggerate for effect. The Minister, Bill Rammell is bullish, but knows that the figures have to bounce back next year, or there's trouble. He's right to say that last year saw a very large increase in applications, and so a fall might be expected, but it wasn't necessarily inevitable.

Here's what the papers have to say.
(Times. Independent. Guardian. Telegraph.)

The main amusement appears to be coming via Bill Rammell's comments about some humanities degrees, which the papers seem to consider something close to high treason. Perhaps if he'd used media studies as an example (which has also fallen), they'd have praised him?

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Graduate Salaries - The Summary

So, the dust is now settling, and here are the figures.

High Fliers survey
: Average salary £23,000

Incomes Data Services: Average salary £21,688

Association of Graduate Recruiters: Average salary £23,000

So, they all say more or less the same thing, so they must all be reasonably accurate, right?


They're all measuring pretty much the same organisations - large, London-based blue-chip employers, mainly in financial services and management consultancy, with a smattering of the largest Milk Round recruiters added in.

They represent about one in ten of the jobs that this years' graduates will actually be doing when they leave university, and don't cover, to give some examples of important employers, much in the way of employers in the media, sciences, local government, social and welfare professions, medical professions, IT or education. Because of their extreme bias towards jobs in London, they are also effectively representing London salaries.

They aren't bad surveys in and of themselves (although they're generally badly reported), it is just that they are misrepresented as being definitive and representative. This leads to the majority of graduates wondering why they aren't getting paid £23,000, and to non-graduates bearing very little sympathy for graduates who do suffer financial trouble. They also give the impression that 'good' graduates aspire to the jobs covered by these surveys and that those earning less than these figures have failed in some way.

They need to be reported better.

Oh, the average salary for a new graduate from 2004 was £17,029.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Graduate Salaries, Part Three

The Association of Graduate Recruiters survey is now out, as everyone who enjoyed this morning's balanced and temperate Times headlines will now realise.

The survey had been conducted by High Fliers for some time, but Hobsons have now taken it over - High Fliers responded by publishing a very similar survey last month anyway.

This one polls 222 organisations (largely blue-chip and London-based, and fewer than last year), and asks them how they see their hiring intentions this year. They largely come back very positive, with a large rise in vacancies, and a modest predicted rise in starting salaries to an average of £23,000, up from £22,000 this time last year.

What has fuelled some of the shriller headlines is the finding that some employers have had trouble filling positions over the last 12 months. Some of it is because applicants don't have 'the right skills', and some because of 'graduates' perception of the industry sector', which is an interesting one. This happened last year as well, although the survey at the time didn't say which organisations had trouble.

The other thing that has caused wailing from some quarters is the announcement that average salaries for the public sector are up 9.8%. The AGR survey is not strong on the public sector - last year's survey covered 12 whole public sector organisations, including one of this year's big (and high-paying) graduate recruiters - The Army (who have been advertising very heavily for graduate recruits this year). This makes me suspect that all we're seeing there is a reflection of an increased hiring regime by the Armed Forces.

At the time of writing, the survey's not available online, so I haven't read it - more when I have.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

International Perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy

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The second Review of International Perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy (warning: PDF) - the first since 2000 - came out last week. PPARC, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), along with the Institute of Physics and the Royal Astronomical Society, were involved in commissioning and sponsoring the report.

The review is generally rather positive about the UK standing internationally, noting that we have excellence in a number of fields. But we're interested in the labour market aspects of the report, and there are some rather less positive words there.

Firstly, there is a concern that the UK PhD is currently too short by comparison to postgradauate degrees in physics from other countries (not too long, as the Guardian mystifyingly concludes). Students are feeling undertrained compared to, for example, their German counterparts. The Review suggests 4 year funding for PhDs as a consequence.

Secondly, the plight of postdocs is yet again highlighted, along with the observation that nothing has changed since 2000. The review takes the view that
'the situation of the perennial PDRA, going from one short-term contract to another, with the associated uncertainty is not the ideal environment in which to nurture young academic talent'
a statement with which it is very hard to disagree. But they accept that there is no easy solution, and suggest that postdocs might look to work elsewhere in the EU to gain vital experience.

Thirdly, the panel is very concerned about the teaching of physics and mathematics in schools, and fears that barriers are being placed to students who wish to study physics at university. This is having a knock-on effect on universities, and they lament that the the finances of university departments are so heavily tied to undergraduate numbers, disadvantaging physics further.

That said, there are positives. Although the number of women in the discipline is still very low, successful steps are being taken to increase the level of female participation - though the numbers still fall far short of the ideal.

The conclusion is that we do still do world class physics in many parts of the UK, but this is all under threat if we do not get more young people to study in physics, and to stay in physics - and that will not happen just through wishful thinking.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Graduate Salary Data, Part 2

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This time of year is the Time Of The Salary Survey. First, we had a survey from High Fliers. Now, it's time for Incomes Data Services to publish their annual winter round-up. They say that the average starting salary for graduates with a "top degree" was £21,415 in 2005 and was expected to rise to £21,688 this year, and that graduates employed three years ago were now earning around £32,000.

Of course, all the provisos I mentioned for the High Fliers survey apply equally for IDS. This survey deals with companies which are predominantly London-based financial services organisations, and as such do not represent the large majority of graduate employers. Next week, the triumvirate will be completed as the Association of Graduate Recruiters release their own survey, which will say almost exactly the same thing, and thus reinforce false perceptions of what graduates ought to expect to earn when they leave university.

These surveys are interesting, but they are a small part of the picture.