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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.
An inquiry into science, technology, engineering and maths degrees has raised serious concerns about the employment record of some courses, including biological sciences.
The Wakeham Review, commissioned by the government in 2014, has found that too many graduates on some STEM degrees are ending up in non-graduate and low paid jobs.
As well as biological sciences, which had more than 18,000 undergraduate entrants in 2014/15, serious concerns were raised about earth, marine and environmental sciences and agriculture, animal sciences and food sciences.
To tackle the problem, universities need to ensure that graduates complete work experience as part of their course, improve their “soft” skills, and are clear about career opportunities, says a report on the review’s findings.
In a series of focus groups, employers said that universities were failing to produce “work-ready” graduates. For instance, only half of respondents from business or industry thought that biological sciences graduates met the employability requirements of industry. Recruiters complained of a lack of flexibility and resilience.
Poor maths and quantitative skills were also identified as a problem.
The review report recommends stronger collaboration between HE providers and employers to better align the supply and demand for STEM skills. Accreditation of degrees by professional bodies was highlighted as one of the most successful ways for industry to have input into courses.
Sir William Wakeham, chair of a 23-strong advisory group that led the review, also stressed the importance of early career advice.
“Careers advice should play a stronger role in STEM degrees and that as a general principle graduates ought to be encouraged to, and in practice, take greater responsibility for understanding, developing and engaging with their potential future career path,” he said.
Lower level concerns were also raised about graduate employment outcomes in Biomedical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Design.
The review said that further in-depth and targeted work to improve employability rates should be carried out in all the disciplines causing concern.
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