We began this series by asking what is the purpose of education, and our answer was that it is ultimately about improving lives. Whether education is seen primarily as a method of passing a body of knowledge on from one generation to the next, or equipping people to be able to think critically and analytically, or equipping people with the skills and knowledge that will help them to succeed in the world of work, the common denominator behind all of these ideas is the thought of elevating people to a better level of knowledge and understanding.
Education which passes on meaningful knowledge, understanding and skills is therefore a good in itself, and nothing we have written throughout this series is intended to undermine that principle. Nevertheless, what we have attempted to do in this series is to recognise that there is a noticeable and widening gap between the needs of local economies and what universities are teaching, and a widening gap between the needs of employers and the knowledge and skills being learned by students. These two issues – productivity and employability – are two sides of the same coin.
We went on in Part 2 and Part 3 to look at how universities might better close the productivity gap through the use of market intelligence. We began by looking at how this can be done from a regional perspective, showing how by using regional data to gain a better understanding of what the needs for graduates are in the area, university planners can begin to tailor their course portfolio to better supply that need. In the following part we imagined the type of university that is less interested in serving their own region than in supplying graduates into the national economy. Can market intelligence be used to play a part in their thinking? The answer is yes. By using market intelligence, universities can identify where in the country the industries are that most closely relate to areas of their course portfolio. Furthermore, the data can also be used to identify the employers in these industries, giving universities the opportunity to forge better links with them.
In Part 4 and Part 5, we tackled the other side of the coin, employability. In the first of these pieces we made the claim that whereas employability is often seen in subjective terms – the skills and attributes possessed by the graduate – there is also an objective element to it. That element is the knowledge of what sorts of graduate occupations are likely to be in demand. You could have two people, both equally qualified, but if one has researched the likelihood of getting a job in their field of study when they graduate, but the other has not, the first person is more likely to find a job that is related to their field of study, and so is more objectively employable. We then went on to show how data can be used by universities to help achieve better objective student employability.
In the following part, we asked “what happens if there are no jobs in the graduate’s field of study?” An elegant answer to this question lies in identifying transferrable skills. By using data which compares one job to another, graduates can firstly better see which other occupations they might want to look for outside that which is directly related to their field of study, and secondly they can better understand where their knowledge and skills gaps are in looking for other occupations, and so determine where they might need extra training in order to be qualified to go into an occupation where there is a demand.
None of this is to say that market intelligence is the solution to the productivity and employability problems. Following our suggestions will not make these problems disappear. However, if universities are serious about tackling these issues, good market intelligence must undoubtedly be part of the answer. Good data will help universities better understand their region’s needs, and the needs of industries in other parts of the country that align with their course portfolio. Good data will also help universities enable their students to be more aware of the real opportunities out there and of the most similar opportunities should they not be able to find work in their field of study.
It is by better understanding the regional and national economy that universities can close both the productivity and employability gaps, and therefore achieve the overarching goal of improving lives.
For more information on how we can help your university improve productivity and the employability of its students, contact email@example.com.