There has been a lot of talk recently about graduate unemployment, such as this article in the Daily Telegraph. Regular readers will know that I frequently post details of different league tables of the world's best-ranked universities. Only one of these (The Guardian) uses employment as part of its assessment. One of the categories the newspaper uses, specifically rates universities according to the number of graduates who are in work after six months.
It seems very unfair after struggling with AS and A2 exams, followed by at least three years' hard slog at university, that graduates may be rewarded with nothing better than the dole queue. However, we need to consider the issue a bit more deeply, and go beyond the newspaper headlines (not for the first time, on this blog).
In the UK, universities broadly split into two categories: the Russell Group and the rest. Russell Group universities include Oxford, Cambridge, the main London colleges (LSE, Imperial, UCL, Kings, SOAS, etc.) and the established universities of major cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Warwick, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Exeter, and so on. The majority of the rest fall into the categories of "new" universities - those that were previously polytechnics and have been upgraded to university status. But this is not entirely true. A major criterion for Russell Group selection is that the university must have (or share) a Medical School. There are several major, well-established universities that do not offer this facility, so are not members of the exclusive club. They are, nonetheless, more highly regarded than most of their newer counterparts.
Then there is the question of courses offered. While the newer universities may lack the kudos and reputation of some of their illustrious peers, they often break new ground with degree courses that are highly valued in the 21st Century. The University of Kent, for example, has a world-class B.Sc. in Actuarial Science, while the university itself is not part of the Russell Group.
One of the most impressive qualities of KY students is their willingness to do their own, detailed research on the universities to which they decide to apply. I would suggest to them that employability should be a major factor in their choices. I am sure it is safe to say that a good degree from a Russell Group university virtually guarantees a job at the end of it. The same could be said of Ivy League and other prestigious schools in the US or the Group of Eight in Australia. The National University of Singapore these days always rates highly in international league tables, as do institutions in China, Canada, New Zealand and mainland Europe.
Ultimately, however, I cannot help but feel that the subject matter of the degree course is the final test. A degree in Engineering from the University of Sheffield or Southampton is bound to carry more weight than a BA in Media Studies (or something similar). While not wishing to sound negative about some of the more modern degree courses, there is still a lot to be said for a traditional degree in an established subject from a major international university. I honestly believe that many of today's unemployed graduates have taken degrees in subjects that make it hard to find work when they finish. As far as KY is concerned, our students are aiming for professions such as Engineering, Law, Medicine, Accountancy, Economics, Business & Finance, Architecture and Actuarial Science. With a good degree from a well-regarded international institution, they should not have to struggle to obtain meaningful work.