Focus group with prospective undergraduates reveals student’s-eye view of the employability agenda

Shift Learning organised the group in the context of the rise of the recent controversy in the HE sector around the role of the employability agenda, with the aim of uncovering a student viewpoint on the debate. The students’ responses uncovered some decided views about what they expected universities to offer them. Only those applying for the most vocational degrees had considered employability factors during their application – only one of the eight looked into the employability statistics of her course on the Unistats website and used it to narrow down her UCAS choices. However, students saw it as a given that any university they attended would provide extensive CV and interview skills training and unlimited time with a careers officer who would help in identifying contacts and even making introductions to employers. There was a strong demand in the group for universities to provide what they referred to as ‘links’. This included the opportunity to take part in industry-partnered projects as part of their coursework, or to be given access to work placements or internships with prestigious employers. However, most notably, several of the group made it clear that they expected the university to be willing and able to provide contacts, introductions and even interviews through their networks of employers and recruiters in the run up to and after graduation. “If [the university] can give you meetings, a person to speak to or get an interview because they’re a company and obviously they’re not going to take people on without meeting you and getting a feel for them.”, speculated one student, “If they can just give you the opportunity …. I think that’s fair.” “[With fees] as they are, I feel the university should at least give us some help to pay it off,” said another,”and they’d have more links than we would …” “On the evidence of this group, students about to go to university find it hard to imagine what life might be like when they leave, so in most cases they’re not really looking at employability statistics when assessing a university, unless they’re on a vocational course.” said Jane Powell, MD of Shift Learning, who also moderated the group. “But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have high expectations of what role the university might play in finding them employment on graduation. Universities need to think carefully about their employability services in order to create a satisfied student base later on. They also need to manage student expectations carefully so as not to over-promise.” Other notable findings •Open Days played a key role in the final decision-making process, with students reporting that it was their experiences at Open Days which confirmed their final shortlist or led them to make last minute changes. •Decisions were often non-rational and emotionally driven and depended on aspects such as how welcomed they felt on the day or even the quality of the catering. About the event Present at the event, held at Shift Learning’s viewing facility, The London Viewing Room, were marketing, recruitment and market research representatives from SOAS, Exeter and UEA. The group was streamed online on behalf of Shift Learning by The Stream Team. The group will be available to view online until 25th April. HEI representatives interested in viewing the group should contact Shift Learning on 020 7253 8959 or email Jack Wilson on [email protected] to obtain the link to the stream. Previous HE-related focus group events held by Shift Learning at The London Viewing Room: Focus group with high achieving students: Shift Learning spoke to three groups of students predicted AAB or higher in their A Levels on behalf of a group of UK universities. The groups discussed drivers and barriers for high achieving students in choosing their first and second HE choices. More information on this report is available on the Shift Learning website:… Focus group with postgraduate students around use of digital resources and eBooks: Reported in Sage Connection blog: Reported in Research information: About Shift Learning Shift Learning offers consultancy and market research services in the education and learning sectors. Our clients include higher education institutions such as Kings College London, Pearson College, Leeds Metropolitan University, Oxford Brookes University, Queen Mary’s College, University of London and numerous academic publishers including OUP, CUP, Pearson and many others. A PDF of this release is available here. For more information on working with Shift Learning, including recent case studies and white papers please visit the Shift Learning website: ENDS