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The Breakfast News higher education special

Deliving into the positives and negatives of past, current and future higher education practices and asked employers to think about how they can work with universities to improve the higher education process.

12 / 12 / 2019Fiona Doherty

Our guest speakers included: former BBC business correspondent, Declan Curry; Trendence UK head of research, Dasha Karzunina; ex-UCAS president, Mary Curnock Cook; AGCAS president and head of The Careers Group, University of London, Dr Bob Gilworth; and former MP and universities minister, Jo Johnson.

Here are eight key points raised by our guest speakers at the event:

1. Talent from all backgrounds needs recognizing.

Britain may be rising in the world rankings slightly in maths (19th), science (14th), and reading (14th), but more needs to be done to recognise talent from all walks of life and provide them with equal opportunities for education.

2. Building confidence and community for students must come first.

Recent Trendence research highlighted that welfare and mental health concerns were a priority before thinking about future career planning. Data showed that student career confidence was affected by diversity issues (such as ethnicity and sexuality) and that 67% of students thought that getting a good job in 2019 will be tough. Furthermore, only 63% of students are satisfied with their careers provision, leaving almost 40% without trust in the one service that is there to help them with their graduate outcomes.

The study also found that students who engaged in careers activities were likely to be more confident in getting jobs and act on building their employability. Thus, we must instil confidence in students and their careers services and support mental health first and foremost to combat this. Happy students are career-focused students, not the opposite.

3. Innovation must start to replace tradition.

One of main problems with the HE system is that it is too rooted in old practices of courses, skills, and careers steps. Higher education is not currently moving with student choice and is not adapting to contemporary innovation in curricula. Any changes to courses can take years to approve before being judged fit to deliver to students. One example of this is the lack of economic collapse content in economic degrees at the time of the economic downturn. A subject that is so relevant to students growing up, economic courses failed to address this issue that directly affected students of that generation. Universities need to not be scared of change and take more risks.

4. Skills need to be more diverse and one-dimensional subject silos need to be avoided.

Higher education seeks to encourage transferable skills for students to use in their careers. However, our approach to subjects, grading and skills-learning in careers needs to evolve and become less restricted.  For instance, a ladder system of grading (like piano grades) could be used, which allows students to hold skills levels in chosen fields and move away from one-dimensional subject silo learning.


5. The luggage doesn’t matter if there is no journey planned.

There is a clear link between career thinking and graduate outcomes. Data showed that 50% of students in their final year at Leeds were still in the ‘decide’ phase of their post-higher education careers with no plan. The data also displayed that career planning is the key as the 2% of students who planned their careers throughout university resulted in 96% employment. Thus, students must be influenced and helped at all stages to decide so that they can plan their career paths and not just gain skills/degrees without any direction.

6. Subject skills must be transferable to provide multiple career paths and options.

For instance, the skills and final degree gained by students who study biomedicine must be recognised as transferable. Biomedical students should not be restricted when they leave higher education and should be considered for other career paths outside biomedicine.

7. Universities should not be about job training or specific skills for specific roles; higher education is for higher levels of thinking and analytical capacity.

Universities should not be about training for a future job or gaining skills for specific roles. University is, instead, for higher levels of thinking and analytical capacity, changing the way students think and mature intellectually.

8. Scrapping tuition fees may not be good for higher education.

Scrapping tuition fees could lead to a return of strict controls on student numbers and the hugely progressive increase in the number of university students from working-class/minority ethnic communities could be reversed.

A big thank you to all our guest speakers.

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