While there are mixed reactions to the universities White Paper, the higher education sector has broadly welcomed the aim of putting students ‘at the heart of the system’.
Higher fees, and the increasing influence of market forces thanks to the White Paper, mean that students will be recognised as ‘valued customers’ rather than fee payers.
Universities will have to publish data on employment rates and graduate salaries by course, alongside information on teaching hours and accommodation costs.
Careers advisers will need to be careful about how they interpret and explain graduate destinations data.
Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education Policy at Birkbeck, points out that, “data on employment six months after graduation is very unreliable. It takes time for graduates to get into jobs that will become their long-term careers.”
She argues that students will have to quickly become literate in interpreting earnings data, such as how to compare two universities where one has a higher number of part-time and older students who are already earning.
Careers advisers must also be careful not to support what will be the increasing importance of universities’ economic agendas. Universities might offer a smaller number of subjects, withdrawing those with a ‘poor’ destinations profile.
For example, engineering – by no means a ‘Mickey Mouse’ subject – produced a 10% unemployment rate in 2010, according to the Higher Education Careers Service Unit.
The Government might inadvertently have set its strategy to boost science and engineering careers in conflict with universities chasing students. The long-term implications are worrying.