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The government's announcement of a major review of the National Student Survey signals a worrying shift in the HE regulatory landscape, warns Jon Scott, higher education consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester.
Statements from ministers this week have made it clear that higher education in England is facing significant reforms, re-setting its focus towards helping to plug the UK's skills gaps and rebuilding the economy. Fariba Soetan, Policy Lead for Research and Innovation at the National Centre for Universities and Business, argues that the proposed changes bring a welcome focus on graduate outcomes and supporting the careers of young people.
Universities UK and GuildHE have commissioned the Quality Assurance Agency to develop a new approach to reviewing and enhancing the quality of UK TNE. QAA will consult on a new review method later this year and will launch a programme of in-country enhancement activity in 2021.
After a week of largely disappointing news for UK higher education, Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University, fears that gloomy forecasts for the future of the sector may prove to be uncomfortably accurate.
Businesses hired significantly more graduates, apprentices and interns this year, but employers have made little progress on improving the diversity of their intakes.
The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) Annual Student Recruitment Survey 2018 found that employers increased their student hires overall by 16 per cent, compared with 6 per cent last year.
While the number of graduate jobs (17,667) outstripped apprenticeship (5,499) and school leaver programmes (766), they continue to grow at a slower rate. Employers recruited 7 per cent more graduates, compared with 1 per cent growth in 2017; but apprenticeship and school leaver programmes grew by 50 per cent, compared with 19 per cent last year.
There were also more summer and year-long internships this year, increasing 10 per cent and 31 per cent respectively. These organisations rehired an average of 52 per cemt of their interns and 43 per cent of their summer placement students.
On almost every diversity measure, the average graduate intake does not reflect the graduating cohort or the UK's population. People who attended state schools, women, first generation graduates and disabled people are all underrepresented on graduate programmes. Only 57 per cent of graduates appointed had a state-school education, compared to 91 per cent of the population.
This was despite nearly all employers who responded to the survey saying that diversity is a significant priority for them. The majority of firms said they were investing in improving their attraction and marketing activities and recruitment and selection processes. One in five have now removed minimum entry requirements while more than a third select universities to improve the diversity of their hires.
The average graduate salary reported was £28,250, but Wages continue to stagnate across the labour market. Since 2008 graduate salaries have only just kept pace with inflation. This means that today's graduates are £1,500 worse off in real terms than those who entered the workplace 10 years ago, before the economic crash of 2008.
Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the ISE said: "Employers haven't been deterred by economic concerns around Brexit and the global trading climate. Students should be encouraged that there are lots of opportunities and different routes into some of the country's top employers.
"Employers are taking some serious action to improve the diversity of their workforce and there is a high level of concern, particularly as graduates from state schools are potentially being locked out of some of the best career options.
"We must find the means to recruit the talent that exists within the breadth of the student body. This means changing the nature of recruitment and selection processes and putting less focus on Russell Group institutions or those that companies have historic links with. It is important to look at the wider social obstacles too. We can't expect businesses to shoulder the full responsibility for an unequal society."
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