Friday, 25 September 2009

New Beginnings

For many of our careers services colleagues, a new academic year has just started and with it a new cohort of students. Certainly Manchester is now bustling with new faces and there seems to be an awful lot going on.

With the economy as it is - although there seems to be a belief that recession is coming to an end, the labour market is likely to be depressed for some time - there is a great deal of information that the sector could use.

I'm currently working on information looking at Masters graduate outcomes from last year and hope to be able to report on that shortly, but if anyone has anything they think we should be looking at, we're always happy to hear from the sector.

As a start, though, in 2007/8, 45,960 Masters qualifications were awarded by UK institutions to UK domiciled graduates. It's a very modest growth from 2006/7 of just 0.7%, and includes 3,085 MBAs. We'll have more information later on.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Wordle Of The Week: Careers Advisers Views of the Recession

This week's Wordle examines the recent HECSU report on the view of careers advisers about the current recession.

Again, click on the picture to enlarge it.

This image was generated using from the HECSU report on careers advisers views of the recession.

Why Caveats Are Important

Back from Biennial, which seemed to go quite well (all feedback on my sessions greatly appreciated). I didn’t get to see anyone else’s sessions, unfortunately, being tied up with delivering various bits and pieces.

The conference seemed pretty upbeat, with most people I spoke to firmly engaged in rolling up their sleeves and getting on with what will be a busy few years. Although there are no illusions about the scale of the tasks ahead, and about the likelihood of having more work with reduced budgets, there is also a feeling of determination to share ideas more. There also seemed to be a feeling that universities are becoming more interested in what careers services are up to and so services are finding themselves more central to the university.

Over the weekend, the Times published a number of pieces to promote their new guide to universities. One is particularly interesting.

It concerns their data on salaries, taken from the 2007/8 DLHE data. The Times took salary data for graduates from particular courses and segmented by institution, to create a series of salary league tables.

The salary data are interesting, and tell us the not very surprising fact that not all graduates get paid the same, but the story misses a few rather important facts out. These omissions ought to have been included for the data to be really useful or meaningful.

The main one is that the article doesn’t tell us either the response rates or the sample sizes from which the salaries are taken.

In fact, the response rate for DLHE this year for full time, first degree graduates from the UK (the sample from which these figures were drawn) was 80%. Of those 50% gave salary information. In short, we have a response rate for salary data of around 40% of those people who were working. On some science courses, the proportion of people doing PhDs can be well over a third, so that further cuts the sample size

Once you segment data by university, then by course, then by those employed, and then take 40% of it, there are not a lot of people left. HESA policy is to suppress salary figures pertaining to 7 or fewer people. In other words, some of the salary data in the Times’ league tables could refer to as few as 8 people.

In short, a single year’s data, in a recession, with less than 50% response rate, and small samples are not sufficiently representative to draw firm conclusions. The figures are interesting, but not a definitive guide to what you'll earn at different universities for different courses.

The Times attempts to pre-empt this by saying “Universities have previously been reluctant to release such detailed information, concerned that it is open to "misinterpretation". Pressure is now growing on them to be more open.”

Well, it is open to misinterpretation, but that’s best addressed by making the caveats public. So there they are.

(edited to fix links and formatting)

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

So, what's in Education At A Glance?

Well, now I've had a look through the OECD report, what's in it of interest to those in HE?

A lot of it is very technical or high level, and there are sections where there is little or no information about the UK.

But here are some key bits.

The first section looks at the output of educational institutions and the impact of learning. You'll find sections on educational attainment within the population, and trends in that attainment, enrolment and completion rates. There's also a series of very interesting labour market stats, which I'll go into more detail on below.

There's a good bit on incentives to invest in education and social impact of education, but there's no UK stats on those, unfortunately.

Further on, at page 290 and onwards, is a section looking at international student participation in HE and this bit shows how very well the UK has done in getting international students to study here.

Anyway, the bits that interest me particularly are the labour market sections. The OECD have used ISCO classifications to work out what proportion of graduates are in 'skilled' jobs. ISCO is not quite the same as SOC, and their definition of 'skilled' seems to eliminate some areas of social care, in particular, which might come under the definition if we used SOC, but they're trying to compare across multiple countries. The UK had, in 2006, about 76% of 25-34 year olds with tertiary education or above in these skilled roles, down about 3% from 1998. Because we changed SOC in about 2002, the stats are not perfect, but it seems that the proportion of graduates in 'skilled' jobs didn't change much in the few years before the recession.

The OECD then try to work out what's actually been happening in the labour market by looking at data through the prism of age cohorts, and conclude that whilst some countries, most notably Sweden, have expanded their HE sector so quickly that supply of graduates has outstripped demand, the same doesn't appear to be true in the UK, and, instead, young graduates have been pushing out older, less qualified workers from skilled job roles. This is obviously bad news for mature workers with lower qualifications in well paid jobs.

In all the proportion of the workforce aged 25-64 with a degree went up from 23% in 1997, to 32% in 2007 without much of an effect on graduate employability.

This is reinforced by the section on employment and economic benefits to education.

Employment rates barely budged between 1998 and 2007 and stood at 87.8% for a degree, and 80.9% for A-levels and equivalents in 2007. Unemployment rates in 2007 were 2.3% and 3.9% respectively.

Finally, the average earnings premium for a degree over A-levels didn't seem to change significantly between 1998 and 2007, standing at a very respectable 57% in 2007.

Education At A Glance 2009

The new edition of the OECD's excellent and comprehensive international report on education has been released today (warning - I'm linking straight to a PDF).

The report is over 400 pages long and full of information about participation rates, graduation rates, benefits of higher education and other useful things.

Well worth a read.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Wordle Of The Week: AGCAS Biennial

This is AGCAS Biennial Week, but I won't be blogging this one as I don't have time, as I'm there to do presentations.

But, as it's Biennial week, let's have a Wordle for Biennial.

Again, click on the picture to enlarge it.

This image was generated using from the AGCAS Biennial conference workshop descriptions.

Friday, 4 September 2009

What do careers advisers think of media coverage of the recession?

The HECSU survey found that a few careers advisers thought that the recent media coverage of the graduate labour market was an accurate reflection of the current situation. However, the majority thought that the media coverage was too focused on a small number of surveys which only represented a fraction of the graduate recruitment market. In their view the media coverage was unbalanced and inaccurate.

“Not very helpful. All doom and gloom and no prospects. It depresses students and keeps them on the sofa watching the cricket. Statistics have, by and large, focussed on data from fewer than 250 employers (OK, it is the larger ones) but we have 3,500 employers recruiting from us.”

All careers advisers acknowledged that it would be harder for graduates to get a job this year, but most felt that there were a number of alternative paths to graduate employment for final year students and that these were being ignored by the media.

Most participants feel the media coverage is - at worst - distorting the reality and - at best – de-motivating graduates at exactly the time when graduates need all the ideas, encouragement and alternatives they can get. It is also worth considering how the definition of a ‘graduate job’ can itself be a barrier to finding employment, as some students take the view that anything other than a place on a graduate training scheme is tantamount to failure.

To read the full report go to the HECSU website.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

How are final year students using the careers services?

The HECSU survey of HE careers services wanted to explore the kinds of strategies advisers had seen students adopting in response to the recession, and also whether they think the number of final year students using their careers service has gone up or down. Initially, we expected to find an increase in the number of final year students using the careers service, as we felt that many would be looking for assistance with job applications and advice on how to get a job. Perhaps surprisingly, only a third reported that the number of students had increased. Another third of the careers advisers said it is business as usual with no change in the number of students using the careers services, and 17% felt that there has actually been a decrease as a result of the recession.

The survey also suggests that final years students are responding to the recession in one of three ways: some students are actively trying to ‘make themselves more employable’, some students looking for ways of ‘riding out the storm’, and some students giving up finding a job altogether.

Click on the image to see the graph in a larger version.

Student strategies
A number of careers advisers suggested that students graduating in 2009 began to realise that the graduate job market is competitive before they left university, while in previous years many had not discovered this until after they had graduated. The general consensus is that although final year students have not necessarily panicked, many are anxious about the perceived lack of vacancies in the graduate labour market.
The key step change seems to be that they are taking things far more seriously compared to those who graduated in July 2008, and certainly more seriously than those who graduated in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007. Enquires about a whole range of options are up - work and travel and study overseas, placements both in the UK and overseas, opportunities to take up graduate internships, work placements and shadowing. 2nd Years are already beginning to plan and even some 1st years..!!! I think 2009-2010 will see a definite increase in student activity, but for how long that activity sustained, is perhaps another question.”

Graduates attempting to ‘ride out the storm’
Those graduates who were attempting to ‘ride out the storm’ were often looking to study for postgraduate qualifications or to spend an extended period travelling abroad in order to ‘buy themselves time’.
The negative headlines based on skewed research by Highfliers around Christmas means students have been paralysed by inaction. More seem to be considering going off travelling if they can afford it hoping things will have improved next year.”
Around 81% of advisers had come across students who were considering further study because they didn’t think they would be able to get a job, and many were concerned that these graduates had not really thought through the pros and cons of postgraduate study and would really prefer to be going straight into work. This was demonstrated by the fact that some graduates considered their place on a postgraduate course to provide them with a ‘back up’ should they fail to find paid before September 2009.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

HE Careers services target local and smaller employers as graduate employers

According to the media, job prospects for students graduating in 2009 are unremittingly bleak. However, a survey of the heads of university careers services conducted by AGCAS in early 2009 suggested that this coverage might not be entirely accurate. As a result, the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) set out to explore two issues: firstly, how accurate careers advisers feel the media coverage of the graduate labour market is, and secondly, how recent graduates are responding to what are undoubtedly difficult labour market conditions.

In July 2009 HECSU launched a short online survey asking university careers services how they think the recession has affected graduate vacancies and what kinds of strategies they have seen final year students adopting in response to the recession. The findings suggest that careers services are experiencing the recession in different ways and that one adviser’s experience of the graduate labour market is not necessarily the same as another’s.

Changes in vacancies and employers
Overall, 78% of the careers advisers say that the number of job vacancies that they are advertising has decreased due to the recession. About 9% say there has been no change and 4% say that job vacancies have increased.

In response to this decrease in employer vacancies quite a few careers services had been proactive in starting initiatives to target local and smaller employers as graduate employers. For some careers services this was done to cover short falls from the usual employers advertising vacancies with careers services. In a few cases careers advisers had themselves been approached by recruitment agencies who were looking for potential employees on behalf of their clients.
Local SMEs, dormant employers (ie those that rarely advertise with us) that we approached and have woken up, many opportunities coming through our alumni networks (people moving up or out of their organisations and creating another vacancy) and jobs overseas (often with organisations we have never heard of).”

To read the full report go to the HECSU website.