Thursday, September 17, 2009

Only three quarters of graduates have full time jobs.

HESA recently launched their findings from the most recent longitudinal study of graduates, looking at the outcomes of graduates from 2004/5.

The press coverage of Longitudinal DLHE was especially interesting, as much of it was actually plain wrong.

This piece, from the Times, is typical.

There are some contentious statements. “According to figures suggesting that a bachelor’s qualification alone is no longer a passport to a well paid job” is sufficiently a cliché that the same words (substituting ‘degree’ for ‘bachelor’s’) come up as appearing in the Times at regular intervals since 2004. It also suggests that at some point a degree was a “passport to a well paid job”. Setting aside that this phrase is essentially meaningless, I take it to mean that the writer feels that at some point, getting a degree guaranteed the holder a “good” job. Well, it never has and it never will.

That’s not the worst of it. The Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian all reported that ‘a quarter of all graduates were not in full time jobs’. This is actually not true. What actually happened is that the data contains a series of categories, including people who were in full-time employment, people who were in part time employment, people who were combining work and study, people who were in further study, and so on.

Now, some of (in fact many of) those people who were combining work and study were also working full time. But the papers all didn’t realize that – or didn’t mention it. Maybe it’s because it was on the first line of the press release?

They also, shall we say, selectively reported the data in such a way as to create a negative impression. Would you say people studying for a PhD represented positive or negative outcomes for universities? The headlines about ‘full time employment’ suggest it’s negative.

That’s even before you get to the question of whether people working part time actually want to work part time or not. Some might. Some might not. For those who want a full time job, it is not good. For some who might be combining work with family life (don't forget that 'part time' means 'less than 30 hours a week' - or, in other words, anyone working less than 5 days a week), it's not.

My wife works part time. She's a graduate. It's not because of educational failure, it's because we have an 11 month old machine for throwing books on the floor that is dressed as a little girl. Lots of graduates could actually have families - last year, a quarter of graduates were over 25 on graduation, and 15% were over 30.

Buried in the press stories was the fact that in a recession, three and a half years after graduating, 2.6% of the 2004/5 graduating cohort were unemployed.

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