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Apprenticeship levy and the new Green Paper Universities and employers

The new Green Paper and what it means for graduate recruitment

In November 2015, the latest Higher Education Green Paper was released. In it, the government outlined reforms to improve teaching, access to higher education and employment prospects. It is hard to argue against any of that: where is this utopia and where do I sign, asks Mike Grey, Senior Consultant at Gradconsult. In theory this should increase the diversity and quality of graduates entering the market but as always the devil is in the detail.


University employability

provision thrives when staff are empowered to build long-term

sustainable partnerships with graduate recruiters…

always take a keen interest in higher education reforms announced by government. I will concede that you

often have to navigate a maze of empty rhetoric before finding anything that sparks your interest. Thankfully I have saved you a job!

There are some overdue changes that will be received well in graduate recruitment circles. The first thing that piqued my interest was a new drive to adopt the grade point average (GPA) alongside traditional degree classifications. They are claiming that this can help to “engage and motivate students to work hard throughout their courses and give employers more granular information about student performance.”

My concern is that more detailed evidence of student performance could easily translate to lots of extra assessment. Students do not need more exams or tests; they require more industry-related project work which better simulates challenges they will face in the workplace. They require time and space to explore their subject in depth and develop the critical thinking skills so desired by employers.

Grade inflation is clearly an issue and the current degree classification system has become a blunt instrument. This is evidenced by the fact that HESA (The Higher Education Statistics Agency) recently reported that 70% of students now receive a 2:1 or above, and 20% get a 1st – this figure has gone up a staggering 163% in a decade!

It is therefore no surprise that the trend in recent times has been to move away from focusing so much on traditional academic performance measures as a means of selecting graduates. Key recent examples have been EY removing degree classification as a benchmark and PWC removing UCAS points as a selection tool. Although these changes are generally reported as being primarily driven by the quest for social mobility, I believe this trend can be attributed in part to the failure of the current grading system. It will be interesting to see if this new system starts to reverse the trend.

However, the social mobility agenda is clearly starting to gain significant traction in graduate recruitment. Widening the talent pool is now not just good CSR; it has become a commercial imperative in the war on talent. There is still clearly a huge distance to travel but expanding the nets should help to create a diverse workforce that better reflects your business’s customer base.

At the same time as increasing fees for students and massively withdrawing funding, the government is taking more control of the key income stream.

“Those that fail to meet expectations would risk losing additional fee income,” according to the Green Paper. If anything is going to get VCs to push employability further up the agenda, it is the potential for loss of income. The financial health and success of a university will be even further defined by graduate job prospects.

Significant income could be at stake; delivering highly skilled and work-ready graduates to the market will be even more of a financial imperative, and hopefully more investment in careers services will follow.

University employability provision thrives when staff are empowered to build long-term sustainable partnerships with graduate recruiters, not just held accountable for the latest set of ambitious employability targets. This service provision cannot be reactive and cannot be built around simply administering thousands of adverts on a graduate job portal. It requires specialist and targeted resource, with greater transfer of knowledge, skills and experience between higher education and the world of graduate recruitment.

There will also be an Office for Students. The student voice is incredibly important but I find it hard to agree with the notion that making students customers and treating education like any other financial transaction, will drive up standards.

The message that must not get lost is the importance of students taking ownership of their career development and taking the opportunity to engage with graduate recruiters at an early stage. If education must be viewed as a product, that product should be empowerment!

What is clear is that it is more vital than ever for universities to build true partnerships with graduate recruiters. | Graduate Recruiter 15

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