Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Whilst we were looking the other way

At Sir Harry Kroto's excellent lament of the way the UK has treated science, some other stuff happened.

Chris Patten, now chancellor at Oxford, looks at how successive governments have underfunded HE.

But more interestingly, The Higher Education Policy Institute have taken a look at some of the implications of the Leitch Review.

The authors, the always-interesting Tom Sastry and Bahram Bekhradnia, analyse some of the suggestions in the Leitch Review. They suggest, amongst other things, that the initiatives may lead, ultimately, to fewer people continuing with education as the population of young people declines after 2010, and that in order to meet targets in the Review, we will have to see a dramatic increase in the number of mature students studying at university.

They argue that the level of employer intervention that the Review suggests to help increase funding is both cautious and sustainable - only 5000 places out of 1.39 million - but that it is important that the Government does not overestimate the size of the market for employer-led HE, and that it doesn't then use this an excuse to distort or reduce funding.

There is also some interesting reflection of what an influx of learners entering HE through the route of new vocational level 3 qualifications will mean for universities. Well worth a read.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Arts Students Idle. Apparently.

Back, back, back after a combination of physical decrepitude and work has prevented my from boring my reader for the last few weeks.

So, what's happening? Oh, yes, we're going to get a new Prime Minister, but it remains to be seen what effect that has on graduate employment. Let us, instead, turn to some research you might have read about recently.

High Fliers released their annual graduate recruitment survey earlier this month, an interesting piece of research that takes a look at how finalists expect their futures to look. It's a 25 page report, but typically, the press concentrated on one page - the last one.

That was one where a quick précis of stats found that arts graduates were less likely to have had an internship, or have gone to employer presentations or recruitment fairs than other graduates. The headlines were enormous fun.

BBC: Arts students 'plan careers less'

The FT: Students faulted in job-hunt research

The Telegraph: Arts graduates leave job hunting too late
(including the ace inference that "Arts and humanities graduates are missing lucrative careers and earning £10,000 a year less because they leave job hunting too late, a survey says today." - which the survey, of course, does not say at all.)

Of course, all these stories really say is 'Press Keen To Make Headlines From Press Release."

The fact that arts students were less likely to take internships, or go to employer presentations than other students makes the exceedingly dodgy assumption that they have the same number of relevant internships or employer presentations to attend. What this survey could equally be saying is 'Employers Not Engaging With Arts Students', but that engages with a rather less easy target than people taking degrees in the arts.

The survey itself is interesting, if limited. The sample size is 17,170 - quite a good sample, but when you look at the universities covered - all pre-92, students disproportionately likely to be based in London - you start to see how the data is skewed. (Also, unlike last year, we don't have a subject breakdown. Last year's was very heavily biased towards business and social science qualifications.)

As a result, expected starting salaries are over £20,000 - the average graduate starting salary is actually below £18,000 - and nearly half the graduate polled wanted to work in London - one in six graduates nationally actually start there so, again, this sample isn't actually representing the range of student experience.

The media sector is the most popular area of application. Given starting salary aspirations, this implies many finalists are very optimistic about the employment market. One in eight wants to be an investment banker as well, and that translated to over 2000 of the sample. Well, a lot of them are going to be disappointed (12% also expect to be earning £100,000 a year by the age of 30. Good luck with that.)

This shows a very interesting set of findings. Not to put too fine a point on it, somehow, these finalists have got a very optimistic view of the employment market. Many of them are going to be disappointed (interestingly, some universities, particularly in the north, show a great deal more realism amongst their graduates).

It is not hard to understand why many graduates feel let down when they come out university when they expect to earn salaries of £23,000 on graduation and to be working in the media in London. Many of the graduates in this survey will not actually manage this. But why do they think this? Who ought to be telling them what the graduate employment market really is like?

And why have the media ignored this and gone for an easy target using inferences that simply can't be made from this data?

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