Thursday, February 22, 2007

Men Miss Top Jobs?

This story from the Times raises a question about research in HE.

The basics are that analysis of the grades obtained by graduates from Russell Group universities show quite strongly that more 1sts and 2:1s are handed out in subjects that are largely done by women compared to those largely done by men (although it's hard to tell from the print edition, which is full of typos and mislabels an entire table).

This falls into the category of 'things the sector is sure it knew already', and that therefore seems to be a statement of the obvious. But the thing is that I hadn't actually seen in demonstrated so starkly before. That makes the research potentially useful - although it is badly undermined by choosing only the Russell Group. And that's the point of a lot of HE research that is missed by critics. There are an awful lot of things about the sector that 'everyone knows'. But, in fact, many of them have never been proven, and sometimes it turns out that they were never true in the first place.

The report (which we can't get at currently, because it's a commercial thing done by Real World) goes a bit too far, though, by claiming that it's leading to a clear disadvantage in the job market. I would suggest that's it's a bit more complex than that - there aren't many graduate shortages in the mainly female areas of arts and social sciences, but there certainly are in areas of engineering, dominated by men. And I suspect that the lower grades in sciences are partly because there are a lot of situations where there is an objectively right and wrong answer.

There are some pretty sensible quotes, with Darius Norell of RealWorld pointing out that grades don't measure the skills you need for employability, and Carl Gilleard of the AGR advising recruiters to look beyond the 2:1.

The point that's being missed, though, is that those employers who confine themselves solely to the Russell Group for their employees are not filtering by degree grade anyway. No - they're using A-level results, I'm afraid.

Technorati tags: ,,

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It's A Desert Out There

The recent report by the new University and College Union on the decline of certain subjects at university level in the UK does raise some concerns. But at the same time, it does miss a couple of crucial points. Do we really need a physics department at every university? Employment figures for physics graduates suggest that physicists had an initial unemployment rate of 8.7%, against 6.2% for graduates as a whole. Only 6.1% of those who did get work went into science.

Is is any wonder that young people don't want to do physics if there are not jobs for them? Do we expect people to train in a difficult discipline and then just to hang around in a kind of stasis until employers get themselves sorted out so that they can offer jobs? Do we expect universities to train people in disciplines they don't want to do, for jobs that aren't there, because it fits our image of what universities should be doing?

Maybe physics is going through a bad spell and will improve - it does happen. But in the meantime, it is dangerous to suggest that universities should just reverse physics department closures and everything will magically right itself. On current evidence, all that would do is create a lot more unemployed physicists.

Technorati tags: ,,,,,

Friday, February 16, 2007

Department of "I Told You So"

Well, as predicted this time last year, when I wasn't hideously ravaged by gastric flu, university admissions figures have gone up again.

A lot of people were very keen to use last year's modest fall in applications as proof that fees didn't work. It was too early to make that judgement, and more considered voices always argued that we'd have to see what happened this year. The current figures suggest that the doomsayers were premature with their verdicts. So saying, it's also a bit early to be shooting your mouth off about being right all along, Mr. Blair. There's still time for the final application numbers to come out only a little up on last year.

But, a nice bit of good news for HE. Doesn't seem to have had the coverage of last year's figures, of course, but that's good news for you.

Technorati tags: ,,,

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sir Gareth Roberts

Sir Gareth, who amongst his many achievements, was the author of the hugely influential Roberts Review into the supply of science and engineering skills in higher education in the UK, died on Tuesday.

He will be sadly missed.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Value of a degree

Universities UK releases its' highly-anticipated report (well, highly-anticipated by me) on the current rates of return to degrees in the UK today.
The figure the analysts from PWC and London Economics have come up with is £160,000 as the average amount a degree graduate can earn over a lifetime compared to an equivalent with 2 A-levels who didn't go to university. As with a lot of these things, though, there is a large range - a medic can expect over £340k more than someone without a degree, whilst an arts graduate gets about £34,500.

The interesting bits will be in the detail, though. The report will also explain how benefits will increase as you get older - hardly surprising, but a good explanation for why newspapers 'universities are a waste of time' articles only ever interview people who've just graduated. (I wrote a hugely scathing piece about this terrible Sunday Times article, and then decided not to post it as I fear that the researchers may have got some stats from, er, me.)
This £160,000 figure chimes in with other recent surveys - some reports are still quoting the widely-discredited £400,000 figure the Government used a few years back to justify top-up fees, but nobody within or without the system has believed this for years, and even the TDA, a Government agency, has been using a figure of £120-150k as a benchmark in literature for a while now.
It will be interesting to see how the Press report it. I predict a lot of 'It's barely worth doing an arts degree' stories.

Technorati tags: ,,,