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Employ some sense

Universities should play to their strengths and prioritise what students need over what they want, writes Claire Callender.

There has been a sea change in the way higher education is sold to young people and in student attitudes towards the benefits they expect from it. Today an increasing number of students expect that university will deliver not only a good education but also a good job. In the past they may have hoped or aspired for such a job once they graduated. But today, for many students, a well-paid graduate occupation is integral to a good student experience. There appears to be a new informal contract between some students and their universities that risks emphasising one aspect of higher education over all others.

Increased emphasis on employability by both students and institutions is partly the result of a tighter graduate labour market following the recession and partly because of the growing importance of league tables, and the fact that many of these now include data on where graduates end up. And these data form part of the Key Information Sets, one tool in a university’s PR machinery to attract students and to help them make informed decisions about what and where to study. But the importance of producing employable graduates also underpins the government’s funding policy, because graduates must pay off their loans, so graduation needs to guarantee highly paid employment.

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