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Here’s how we can better measure the success of our uni graduates

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

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University graduates should be able to choose their own measures of success in job outcome surveys, rather than the current measure of full-time employment, new ECU research has found.

A study by ECU’s School of Business and Law Associate Professor Denise Jackson and Griffith University’s Professor Ruth Bridgstock compared the measures used in Australia’s Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) with measures in similar countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States and Ireland.

The GOS is completed by Australian graduates four months after completing their course and is used to compare Australian universities on the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) website.

Data and rankings from QILT are commonly used in university marketing campaigns and by potential students and parents when choosing universities.

Associate Professor Jackson and Professor Ruth Bridgstock outlined three major flaws with the Australian surveys:

  1. Too much emphasis on full-time employment
  2. Graduates are surveyed too early in their transition to work
  3. The survey devalues graduates’ social, cultural and economic value

Too much emphasis on full-time employment

In most occupations the future of work does not involve full-time work for the rest of your life, Associate Professor Jackson said.

“Our measures of success have been overly simplified into getting a full-time job or not,” she said.

“In fields like engineering, commerce and IT, full-time employment is the norm for most graduates, however that’s not the case in all fields.

“In the creative industries and humanities, there are very few full-time or graduate-level positions and even successful, experienced artists navigate careers characterised by part-time roles, fixed-term contracts and self-employment.”

Surveying graduates too early

The research concluded that Australian graduates are surveyed too soon after graduation (just four months) to get an accurate measure of the employment outcomes of their study.

Associate Professor Jackson suggests Australian graduates’ employment status should be measured 12 to 18 months after graduation.

“To get a better picture of employability we should be waiting longer to ask those questions about graduates’ job outcomes,” she said.

The United Kingdom surveys students 15 months post-graduation and those results present a more accurate picture of employment, according to ECU’s research.

Devaluing the social, cultural and economic value of graduates

Placing so much emphasis on employment as a result of university study can create an unrealistic measure of graduates’ success, Associate Professor Jackson said.

“There are many important skills and attributes built during study that aren’t measured in employment, including critical thinking, self-confidence and self-esteem,” she said.

“A university education is so much more than simply getting a job in a specific field. As a society we should be looking at how it prepares people for a range of jobs, including those that may not have even been invented yet.

“We need to know that universities are developing graduates who are socially engaged, active citizens that are environmentally responsible and will enhance national well-being”

A better measure?

The proportion of graduates working the number of hours that they want to, in the field they want to and achieving meaningful career satisfaction would be a better measure of post-study success, according to Associate Professor Jackson.

“We should take into account graduates’ motivation for studying and their career goals,” she said.

“There are plenty of students who aren’t starting a degree with the purpose of working full time and this metric would measure that.

“Additionally, the future of work in most occupations isn’t a full time job that you do for the rest of your life -- it’s part-time, it’s contract work and it’s gig work.”

‘Evidencing student success in the contemporary world of work: renewing our thinking’ was published in Higher Education Research and Development and can be accessed at the journal’s webpage.

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