Wednesday, 26 April 2017


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.


  1. In addition to a good formal education & qualification (to start with), serious employers often look at the potential candidates' attitude toward life in general and attitude on willingness to work diligently and contribute selflessly toward the business with real team spirit, and the high level of ownership.
    The real learning starts from getting into the job first.

  2. True enough. But first you have to get an interview for that all-important first job. If there are two good candidates both vying for such a place and one has a degree from a Russell Group university while the second does not, I know who is more likely to get an interview. Thanks for your comment and input.

  3. Dear Dr Paul Rogers
    The government has identified growth areas to bring the nation forward: digital technology, nanotechnology, bioeconomy & green technology. The dilemma is that as much as our students should follow suit I am afraid the jobs will not be available when they graduate.

    Azimah Rahim

    1. But a degree in IT, Biotech or something similar from a good university will likely get you started.......

    2. Thank you, Dr Paul Rogers.

      I am afraid graduates who have returned from the UK with science degrees, first class at that, from even Russell Group universities are still jobless.

      Not every science graduate has the capacity to pursue a PhD. Some should consider employment first then maybe an MBA and continue to nurture a career in the private sector. It is a dilemma.

    3. I understand what you're saying, which is why the Guardian's column of showing which graduates are in employment after six months of leaving can be a factor in university choice. The MBA option is also a good idea, but many universities will not entertain it until the student has had a good few years' experience of working. This is a potentially "Catch-22" situation. Thanks for your comment.