The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) have produced a document which in just 4 pages outlines what they believe needs to be done for the future of higher education – a mean feat in itself!
1. Abolish the 50% target for higher education – it has absolutely devalued not just degrees but even getting a 2.1 (with 60% of graduates attaining nthat or better). The concept of opportunity for all is a good & right one, hence this target, but not by effectively saying there is only one route i.e. go to University. That is a mistake, but I fear mass higher education is here to stay. The horse has bolted on that one!
2. Introduce the Higher Education Achievement Report – this broader picture of a graduate is a good thing, i.e. a graduate is much more than just about a number (1st, 2.1, 2.3 etc) but this fuller information needs to made easier for employers to use or they won’t! They are time pressed enough.
3. Lift the cap off student tuition fees & drive up standards. Yes, standards need to go up but that starts with who comes to University in the first place. And Universities cannot just charge more and deliver the same – they must do more to ensure their graduates get the start to their career, that they would not have got if they had gone straight from school to work.
4. Embed employability skills into all degree courses. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet I have been saying this for years! Too many students don’t know what they don’t know and it is not their fault. They find out too late, i.e. after graduating, that they need more than a degree. We need to educate them, after all it’s why they are at University! So develping work based skills needs to be made compulsory. Though work is bring done more in this area by HE, too many Universities are, for example, making the placement year of a 4 year sandwich course non compulsory – what kind of a message does this send out?! Yes it might to tough to find a placement but life is, so might as well get used to it now!
5. Best practice and resources for university and school careers services. Good quality careers advise is indeed key, but the reality is for most Universities the careers service will remain under-resourced, particularly it they continue to provide a service based on a University with half the numbers they have now. The old style ‘one to one sessions’ are just not workable. More collaboartion with companies is key so they can deliver ‘services’ i.e. insight into careers, skills development etc and the careers serice role needs to be more strategic rather than about ‘tactical’ delivery. Both Universites and companies need to be put in the spotlight to do this more.
6. Tax breaks for graduate employers. This is especially important to get more SMEs actively recruiting graduates as they are the ones who will recruit the huge bulk of the graduates leaving University each year.
7. More flexible visa system for employers. This is critical especially for the hard to find graduates such as science, engineering and technology.
The brutal truth is that students go to University to get a better career and with it a better life. At present this is a promise that for too many is not being delivered on.
You never have and never will need a degree to succeed in life, there are too many examples of people who prove that point. But University can absolutely help many to a better career and life.