Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A-levels are rubbish, apparently

The BBC ran this story last week, about two academics from Edge Hill University (the Ormskirk-based institution that recently won university status). In it, Dr. Lesley Sumner and Dr. Richard Ralley conducted a survey on 216 Edge Hill graduates, and found that those from a vocational route into degrees did better than those who came from A-levels.

This is an interesting piece of work, and valuable in that it shows that a vocational route into university is not necessarily second class to the traditional A-level pathway. Certainly, it is to be hoped that the authors continue and expand their work on a wider scale.

But then we have the press release on the research.
The report, which is due for publication later this year presents a major blow to the present A-level system...
A study of 216 students from one institution says nothing to warrant this level of hyperbole - thankfully the authors themselves have said nothing that is unsupported by the results of their work. Edge Hill, with a large proportion of students coming in through widing participation initiatives, is certainly not representative of the UK HE system in general, and their entrants not representative of the A-level cohort. It needs other universities to be involved before anyone can have any meaningful idea about the effectiveness of A-levels.
The BBC, of course, printed the story anyway, presumably on the principle that it said something exciting, and that accuracy was not really a prerequisite. There are already a phenomenal number of misconceptions about HE in this country - do we really need the BBC to help creating more?

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Public Sector Graduates Stole All Our Money

What fun. Reports of a recent survey from the Hay Group are focussing on the story that graduates in the public sector are set to earn more than those in private employment this year. The Daily Mail has particularly enjoyed this story (note, they didn't print my counterbalancing comment.)

The survey polled 550 employers, so we are told. Because we don't know. The data is not publically available, we can't get at the report, and we don't know who's in the sample. But the interview in the BBC article lets us guess. The NHS (most likely the Executive) and the Civil Service (by which, I suspect they mean, 'The Civil Service Fast Stream') get a mention.

In fact, this came out the same week as a new AGR survey, which found an increase in vacancies - it seems from a few indicators that it might be a good year for graduate employment - and an average salary of £23,156 - well above the Hay Group's average of £20,036, and even their public sector average of £21,445. The AGR survey has its faults - poor coverage of the public sector and of jobs outside London, as explained in more detail here.. But this Hay Group survey, whilst probably closer to the overall, also looks skewed. The public sector data is clearly badly inflated, with central government jobs probably being used as a proxy for the whole public sector, from doctors to desk clerks. The shame is that, not only is this being used for political advantage by the Mail, but that the Hay Group seem quite happy to let that happen.

The average graduate starting salary this year will be somewhere between £18 and £19k. The top three public sector professions will be, as they always are, doctors, nurses and teachers. Those are the facts, and a fictitious army of lucratively paid graduates doing nebulous jobs funded by the tax-payer is not.

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