You’re thinking of going to university, but you don’t know which one. You want to do some kind of engineering course, but you don’t know which one. Historically, these where and what questions are ones that all students going to university have had to answer, but with the introduction of tuition fees a third question has now become increasingly essential for all people thinking of studying for a degree: which job am I going to get at the end of it?
This change is showing up in an increasing number of studies. For instance, in the foreword to this year’s UCAS report, Through the lens of students: how perceptions of higher education influence applicants’ choices, Mary Curnock Cook commented:
“In general, [applicants] are very career-focused and the various aspects of higher education most likely to secure them the career structure they want are given a high priority in their search.”
What this means is that increasing numbers of young people thinking of going to university will not just be looking at doing subjects that interest them, though this will of course still be a consideration, but also at doing subjects that they perceive will give them the best opportunities in the job market after graduating.
That word perceive needs closer examination. It is a truism that we ordinarily act in ways that we perceive to be in our interests. However, as is well known, our perceptions are not always right. Sometimes they are skewed by our preconceived ideas. Sometimes they are skewed by other people’s preconceived ideas. But one of the overarching reasons that our perceptions often turn out to be wrong is simply that we are not in possession of the data and the facts that would enable us to make informed and objective decisions that really are in our interests.
The truism applies equally well to people looking to go to university. Nobody going to university wants to make a bad decision. Nobody going to university wants to come out staring at years of employment in a non-graduate job. People want to study something that they enjoy and consider worthwhile, and something they hope will lead them into sustainable work at the end of it. Yet every year several hundred thousand people are asked to make a decision that will affect them for years to come, if not for their whole working life, relying on perceptions rather than the kind of data and facts that will help them to make a good, informed decision.
The solution to the problem is therefore to get good data into the hands of those who are making this decision. Data which is understandable. Data which is easy to digest. Data which is delivered through a mechanism that makes it easy to use. More specifically, the kind of data that gives students and prospective students both insight on occupation trends, salaries, and related careers, and which then links these career options directly to the courses that the university provides (click here for a great example of how this information can be embedded into an institution’s website).
This is something that was recently highlighted by Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies:
“At the very least, prospective students need better and more consistent information about which degrees lead to what labour market outcomes so that they can make more informed choices about whether to attend university at all, and if so what to study and where. This is perfectly possible to provide by subject and institution.”
Tuition fees are undoubtedly leading young people to be more cautious and discerning about what they study. If they are to make good decisions, it is vital that they rely not on perceptions, which can often be wrong, but also on factoring in the realities of the labour market into their calculations. Universities have a crucial role in giving them the kind of data that will challenge their perceptions. Such data is key to making informed decisions, and it may well spare many from making bad choices.
To find out how we can help your university help its students and prospective students make more informed career decisions, email Dr. Jamie Mackay at firstname.lastname@example.org