3 interesting things for employers from the White Paper on Higher Education

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With so much chat about apprenticeships, and I put my hands up that I have been one those, higher education has arguably taken a bit of a back seat. Yet, whilst the hype of the apprenticeship levy and wider reforms to apprenticeships and further education has been in the spotlight, a number of significant decisions have been taken on higher education.

So in case you missed it, here’s 3 interesting things for employers we learnt from the government’s White Paper on Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice.

1. Government will go ahead with plans to link the teaching excellence framework and tuition fees. However, plans to bring in the new system will be slower than initially thought. Universities that meet the standards in the academic years 2017-18 and 2018-19 will then be able to make increases in tuition fees for 2019-20.

The new Teaching Excellence Framework (known as the TEF) has subject to quite a lot of debate and some questioning the need for it. However, what’s interesting about the TEF is the government’s plans to allow those universities to excel in certain areas (point 2) to be able to increase tuition fees in line with inflation. The government’s White Paper does suggest a more phased approach to this than was previously suggested but it’s going ahead all the same.

The big tuition fee debate is always an interesting one. As someone who sees an additional deduction to their pay slip each month to pay back the dreaded student loan, even I can see that actually tuition fee increases has achieved some results. It’s something we’ve blogged on previously but I’ll mention it again. Since the increases in fees, we have seen the number of applications to study engineering increase quite significantly, with other subjects – that are perhaps less in demand by employers – fall. Now, you could make quite an easy argument then that the rise in fees has actually driven young people to make informed decisions about their careers, and as a result engineering is faring well.

For universities however, putting on courses such as engineering is costly and intensive. It’s not uncommon for a higher education provider to comment that the tuition fees together with the premium to deliver high cost subjects fails to fully covers the cost, so these institutions will undoubtedly welcome the potential increases (only of course if they are judged to be excellent!)


2. Universities will be assessed based on student satisfaction, retention and graduate employment. These metrics are likely to be developed later on and there will also be some form of external expert judgement.

So how will universities be judged? Well a mixture really of student satisfaction, retention, and interestingly for employers – graduate employment. In our response to the initial BIS consultation we argued that student outcomes and learning gain is of particular importance to employers and therefore it should be more heavily weighted towards this. Employers still remained concerned about the quality of some of the graduates leaving the higher education system. We also supported proposals to include students’ knowledge, skills and career readiness. This all seems to be capture within the initial metrics set out.


3. Students will, in the future, be able to access more detail information on graduate earnings. This has been mooted by BIS for some time who have been working with HMRC to make this work. Earnings will be published on individual degree courses giving prospective graduates a better insight into the value of their course. In addition, graduate earnings will be published this summer. A breakdown by subject and higher education institution will then be published in Autumn.

Music to my ears. It was actually 10 years ago now (showing my age) when I was finishing off my A-levels and preparing the fly the nest to go to university. My degree has served me fairly well, I studied politics and then public affairs and lobbying so my career pathway made sense. However, I had no idea that jobs such as “Policy Adviser” existed until I began researching courses for my masters. Even when I started, there was little information on supply of jobs, earnings or anything.

Having detailed information on earnings based on subject and institution would have been extremely useful. I talk a lot now about the rewards of working in engineering. Engineering UK’s report continues to find that engineering and technology graduates’ starting salaries are a fifth higher than all others.

Knowledge is power. And with all that information readily available we might just start seeing a few more graduates choosing subjects such as engineering and universities where teaching excellence is high. The graduates will find themselves jobs, and employers will find the quantity and quality of graduates they continue to say they’re looking for.


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