What Have the Universities Ever Done for us? This was the theme of last week’s Higher Education Strategic Planners Association (HESPA) conference in Loughborough, and one of the issues that came up in several talks was the need for universities to better evidence and articulate both the economic and social benefits they provide.
In his practical workshop — Eureka! An Academic Portfolio Informed by Specific Employment Trends — Emsi’s Business Development Manager for Higher Education, Dr Jamie Mackay, began by picking up on this point, citing the example of the economic and social benefits given by Bucks New University. Our economic impact study for the university found that:
For every £1.00 invested by students, they will gain an average of £7.00 in higher lifetime earnings
For every £1.00 invested by society, £3.30 will be gained in added income and savings
For every £1.00 invested by taxpayers, £3.00 will be gained in added tax receipts and avoided costs
Having set the scene by looking at the present value universities give, the question Jamie went on to explore was “So Where Next?” In other words, assuming that a university makes a solid return on the investment students, society and taxpayers make into it, how can it improve upon this? The answer he set out to the delegates in the room is for universities to take on a larger role in balancing the supply/demand components of both education and the labour market.
Until recently, universities have tended to operate almost exclusively on a supply-side model where students (the supply) graduate and it is hoped or even assumed that they will go on to fill graduate occupations. Many do, of course, but then the skills gap and low productivity we are hearing more and more about suggests that often the qualifications and skills they have learnt do not align particularly well with the needs of the labour market.
Jamie presented a new vision, one which takes account not just of the supply of graduates into the labour market, but also the needs and priorities of the labour market. Knowledge of this demand can then feedback into the university’s planning to produce a course portfolio which is far more likely to meet the needs of both employers and students than the existing supply-side model.
In many ways this is a new and even radical approach. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that it is going to become a necessary approach if universities are to have a greater impact on productivity and employability, both in their region and nationally, and so increase the value and benefits they bring to a range of stakeholders.
You can view Jamie’s presentation here, and for further reading on this subject we would also recommend taking a look at Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of our current series — Improving Lives Through Higher Education and Market Intelligence.