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Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence for Prospects at Jisc, reviews a week of higher education news which felt much like every other since lockdown, as new research on graduate earnings and university admissions was published.
Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Students Employers, reviews a week of HE news in which student accommodation, fee refunds, graduate jobs, and research funding surfaced as key issues.
Reviewing a week in which issues affecting women’s lives were in the spotlight, Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations at the Council for Higher Education Art and Design (CHEAD), sees hopeful signs of moves to address gender equality in higher education.
Commenting on a week of higher education news, Alice Gent, Policy, Research and Communications Intern, and Ruby Nightingale, Communications and Public Affairs Manager at the Sutton Trust, highlight evidence that Covid-19 is having a disproportionate impact on students and graduates from poorer backgrounds.
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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