According to reports in the Guardian and Times Higher Education last week, recent research shows that graduates in some of the nation’s top universities appear to be far more career focussed than their predecessors. The UK Graduate Careers Survey 2015, which was conducted by High Fliers Research and which was based on interviews with over 18,000 students, produced a number of statistics that all tended to point towards the same conclusion: students today are thinking far more carefully about what they are going to be doing after graduation than those in previous years.
Some of the most salient points from the survey were as follows:
– The percentage of final year students from the UK’s leading universities who expect to start a full-time graduate job straight after university has increased to 26%, the highest level for fourteen years
– There has been a dramatic drop in the number of final year students with “no definite plans” for after university – just 9% are undecided about their future, the lowest proportion since 1998.
– 48% of finalists from the “Class of 2015” began researching their career options by the end of their first year at university, the highest proportion ever recorded by The UK Graduate Careers Survey.
– A record 64% of students made applications to graduate employers by March in their final year, up very substantially from 46% ten years ago.
– The average starting salary that finalists expect to earn as new graduates has risen to £23,700, some £700 more than in 2014 and the largest annual rise for seven years. Salaries that finalists expect to be paid five years after leaving university have also increased, to an average of £41,400, and more than 1 in 6 finalists believe they will be earning at least £100,000 by age 30.
The explanation for these figures appears to be fairly straightforward. This year’s graduates are the first to be paying the £9,000 per year tuition fees, and most expect to leave university with debts of at least £30,000 – £10,000 more than last year’s crop of graduates. According to Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, this has led to this year’s graduates being “the most careers-orientated, motivated and ambitious of their generation.”
In other words, the introduction of tuition fees means that students no longer have the luxury of waiting until after they leave to decide what they want to do, but are having to be proactive about their future far sooner than before. Not only this, but they are likely to be specifically seeking careers that will enable them to pay off their large debts sooner rather than later.
Although the survey was conducted amongst some of the country’s most prestigious universities, I think we can safely assume that students attending lower ranking universities will face the same considerations. So what does it all mean? I would suggest five key points:
1. Universities will need to ensure their courses more accurately reflect the needs of the labour market so that students can be more confident of getting a good job at the end of their studies
2. Those thinking about studying at university will be far more discerning about what they study with questions such as “Will this lead to a job?” and “Will I be able to earn enough to pay off my debts at the end?” at the front of their minds as they make their decisions as to whether to go to university and which course to do
3. Universities are going to have to get more savvy about providing the kind of information mentioned in point number two (i.e. job prospects and earnings)
4. Universities will also need to get better at making clear the link between their courses and the careers it can lead to
5. Students should have easy access to the kind of information mentioned in point one from before they even get to university, all the way through their study period
This might seem like a tall order, but actually the solution is quite simple. The connection between all these points is found in gaining access to regional Labour Market Intelligence – data on current and future employment trends, data on earnings, and information about transferrable skills so that students can see other career paths that might be open to them if their preferred destination is no longer a viable option.
The good news is that this information is readily available through EMSI, and is able to provide solutions to all of the points made above. Using our data on regional employment trends, universities can shape a curriculum which better reflects the needs of employers and so provide their students with a higher chance of gaining employment at the end of their studies. Using data for individual occupations, including employment trends and earnings potential, universities can provide their students and prospective students with the information they need to make proactive decisions about what they will be doing after university. And all this information can be connected with the courses run by a university, in order to inform prospective students where the education they are considering might lead them.
The results of the UK Graduate Careers Survey are really not that surprising. They are simply a confirmation that students are adjusting to the reality of the situation that they find themselves in. Now the ball is very much in the court of the universities. They know what students need and through Labour Market Intelligence they have the means to provide it. The question is whether they will now adjust to the reality of the situation created by tuition fees and respond adequately to the needs of their students.
For more information about how we can help your university help your students make better decisions about their future, contact Jamie Mackay at email@example.com