Last week the National Centre for Universities and Business published the first findings of a survey of 4,000 undergraduate students from 20 English universities which sought to understand their views in four primary areas - careers and employability services; part-time work, work experience and internships; the influence of future employment chances shaped education choices; and views on future employment. This report covers the first two topics, and the second chapter will be published in June.
So, what did students tell us about careers services? There are some startling differences in student engagement with their university careers services especially when you break it down by subject studied, home regions, and by universities themselves. Nearly half of maths and computer science students have used employability services compared to only 13% of veterinary students; only around a third of Scottish and Welsh students (studying in England) had sought advice from careers services compared to nearly 50% of those coming from outside of the EU. The variance between universities was also striking with 54% of students from one university accessing their careers services with only 23% from another having done so. Students are generally very positive about careers services, with nearly 70% rating them very good or excellent, and those universities with the highest engagement are generally rated highest for quality. Clearly though, there are other challenges in encouraging students to engage with their careers services when there is such variance between the students from different areas and those studying different subjects.
On the subject of links between students, business and universities the results are much clearer. 95% of the students we surveyed said it was either essential or somewhat important for such links to exist, and more than 90% wanted placements, work experience and internships. Interestingly this finding neatly complements comments from employers in a report we published earlier this week, where they told us that as well as the traditional subject knowledge they were also looking for graduates to be able to demonstrate that they could apply their skills in a number of different sectors and roles, the kind of experience that comes from direct work experience. Of more concern is the fact that less than half of students said they had undertaken the kind of work experience that they and employers have said is so important, and of those that had, nearly 60% had organised it themselves rather than through their university. On this matter there is also variance across subjects, 78% of those studying subjects aligned to medicine said their university organised their placement compared to just 18% of law and 19% of architecture students.
As is to be expected students studying subjects aligned to medicine, veterinary sciences and education are much more likely to undertake work experience than others but there is also variation among students of subjects less traditionally associated with placements with just 19% of history students taking up a placement compared to 31% of those studying engineering.
What does this mean for students? Their instincts about the need for their education to include some industry and business links are mirrored by the desires of employers, and many are taking the initiative to organise their own placements already. However, students rate university employability advice highly, even though they also want institutions to do more to create links with industry, so those that haven't should take advantage of what their institutions do offer.
For universities and institutions the message is even more unequivocal, greater collaboration is vital, and not only because students want it and businesses value the graduates it produces. In their communication to universities the current government have raised the profile of employability in recent years, and just last week Shadow Universities Minister Liam Byrne recognised greater collaboration across all aspects of university and business operation would not just be important to increase graduate employability but also in research and development, scientific discovery and other areas of innovation will help to secure the UK's place in the global economy.