Choose your University and course by its employability and salary ratings…

Mashup ahoy ! Like a premonition one of the first Mashups to hit the main street has arrived. The HE choice website called http://bestcourse4me.com/ was recently launched.  David Willetts, Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, has been promising this type of web resource since January 2009 and it is now here. Comparing the salary and employment status of different courses and universities might be interesting, but will it help young people make positive career choices. As always what is behind the figures ? A useful summary of some of the surprising results are in this blog http://www.statusq.org/archives/2010/02/24/2739/ which is written by a friend of the websites owners.

 Many issues about this website:-

 It was promoted by David Willetts as being worked on in conjunction with Microsoft, but now promoted as being in conjunction with Ros Smith and Steve Edwards computer entrepreneurs  (Although still listed as contributors there is now no mention of Microsoft on any press release)

David Cameron likes it !  http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2867656/David-Cameron-backs-website-that-aims-to-get-more-teens-into-university.html  and so does the Sun http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/2866157/Education-under-Labour-day-2-Trevor-Kavanaghs-blistering-verdict.html  Must be the first time a website on choosing University courses has made such a splash in which is commonly thought to be Britain’s favourite paper (Copyright Sun Newspapers !)

Introductory Video spoken by Andy McNab (SAS Hero) http://greymansland.com/andymcnabnews/andy-mcnab-articles/andy-mcnab-in-the-sun-my-view-about-a-new-campaign-to-help-more-teens-get-to-university/

 In a strange link the other paper which carried some weighty reporting on it was the Financial Times, which also mentioned the related promise to put the careers service “Back on Track” http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c5b5042a-21ae-11df-acf4-00144feab49a.html  Interesting comments on A level Law being “less than ideal” for top universities…

 With the push this website will get from the press,(or at least certain sections of the media), and its apparent value in working out which course provides the biggest bang for your buck, be aware of this website as you, or your colleagues, will be asked about it before too long !

 Obvious questions to ask include:-

 Will this resource help prospective students make better career choices in HE ? Or add even more to the confusion felt by some students and parents ?

What about the needs of the mature student, do these figures apply to them in equal number ?

Is being able to talk through such results still necessary or can students just use the website to choose their course, as recently suggested by John Morgan, president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jan/05/higher-education-careers-advice-professional ?  (although to be fair I do understand that the reporting of his comments do not reflect his actual view and might have had some undue emphasis put on them which did not support their use)

One obvious problem is that 6 months a not really a valid time interval to get anything clear and positive about graduate career paths across all professions and areas. In fact according to this resource if you want to be employed after your degree Media Studies is a much better bet that Chemistry… Although obviously as an adviser I would not be letting such a result go by without putting some serious balance on it.

 This is one issue I think we need to be aware of. It is what Angela McFarlane of Bristol Uni has termed ‘techno-romanticism’. Briefly summarised as ‘give the students the tools and they can fly because they are all Digital Natives’. Sometimes the more traditional skills in Careers work are still valuable and can be transferred to the digital area.  Some of the approaches might need to be changed such as networking skills and how they are used comparing the approach of face-to-face to screen-to-screen. (or phone-to-phone !). However we cannot put the genie back in the bottle and Web 2.0 careers advice will be part of the future mix.

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Speak to someone about Higher Education – or just look at a website ?

Getting advice about Higher Education is an important thing, but who makes sure the advice students get is impartial and independent?  Lots of people have opinions and thoughts about HE, but how helpful is it with the people giving the advice being trained?  Some people do relevant training via their professional organisation, or by attending university events.  However in Somerset we are putting 10 of our advisers through the new Higher Education Advisers Certificate run and validated by London South Bank University. This is a Masters level programme and builds on the skills and experience of our staff that between them have many years of working at this level.  Indeed we do have staff who already give HE advice to undergraduates and graduates, (via other contracts), but have never been able to have this aptitude certified.  Such an award will be in addition to the specific careers advisory qualifications they already need to be a Careers and Skills Adviser.  At Connexions Somerset we feel it is important to build on the skills of our staff and develop our ability to help people make positive HE choices. As we know Higher Education can be expensive, involve commitment of time, and also applied academic effort, which means that good advice on this option is important to ensure that students can benefit from the opportunity. There was an interesting related article in the Guardian about this whole issue of speaking to someone who is able to offer professional advice and guidance on this area, compared to just looking at some websites and deciding in isolation.  I’m sure all tutors and staff in tertiary institutions would recognise the work entailed in this area.  On a personal level for prospective students I am quite happy for them to look at various web resources, log-on to assorted social networking sites and explore the various message boards that they might find useful, but would always encourage them to speak to someone who can give impartial and unbiased advice as well. In full disclosure Andy Gardner (pictured in this report), Heads up the ICG HE Adviser Community…not that I’m biased of course !  http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jan/05/higher-education-careers-advice-professional

What to expect from a careers interview – guidelines…

Following on from the previous post, one thing that is clear is how the generic “careers adviser” who gives “careers advice” in a “careers interview” often isn’t anything of the sort.  This can be due to the various people who play the role of advisers from parents, family, teachers and other adults, allied to what actually happened in the session. The summary which goes along the lines of  “I had a computer test when I ticked a few boxes and it told me what to be” does come around time after time.  All of the careers education and guidance work is often not mentioned, or perhaps recognized as such, nor is the fact that no test will tell you want to do. Indeed often these comments seem to refer to the original Jiig-CAL questionnaire which 21 years ago was the bright young thing on the guidance world. An interesting flashback on it from the BBC is here for those too young to remember it J !  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/7463561.stm

Of course the fact that Jiig-CAL should have been part of a Careers Education and Guidance (CEG) programme of 8 weeks or so duration is often missed out, indeed it seems that the quick fix of a sheet that would tell you what to do has an enduring power in our society. Perhaps this is where the career of Leela from Futurama as a “career placement officer“would develop from. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turanga_Leela.

Returning to the present is there a need to be explicit on the role of the careers interview and what to expect from it ?  Some universities already do this, Bath http://www.bath.ac.uk/careers/guidance/guidanceprep.pdf has a nice example, as does UWE http://www.uwe.ac.uk/careers/about_us/careers_interview.pdf. to name just two examples. Is the old common understanding of the careers adviser telling people what career to do, (or more often remembered as telling them what they cannot do), still current in our work ?

What to expect from a Careers Interview…

One thing that seems to be endemic in most of the discussion about careers advice is, often without too much qualification, how rubbish it was. Indeed  this can be reported by everyone from cabinet ministers downwards without much argument or moderation. One interesting report on this area of careers was carried out by Edge Hill University in a project funded by HEFCE on how working class undergraduates made their decision. One of the fascinating aspects I found was the session on “Reversing previous experience of Careers”,  as they said in their report “It emerged that contact at school or college had been patchy, and was not always with qualified careers advisers. The workshops enabled staff to de-bunk misconceptions, and explain the differences between university and school careers provision. To enhance students’ perception of a quality service, staff placed greater emphasis on publicising the regional and national awards gained by the Careers Centre.”

The whole report is worth reading http://www.prospectsnet.com/cms/ShowPage/Home_page/Main_Menu___News_and_information/Graduate_Market_Trends_2008/Working_Class_Students__the_Career_Decision_Making_Process_and_Employability__Autumn_08_/p!ebXXXdd and perhaps will be reflected on when the discussion of careers advice again is raised on the political agenda.

 

Subject Choice and how it can affect earnings…

As we progress through this academic year I’m finding some questions have a familiar ring to them. Not so much from students as from their parents…or indeed other adults with an interest in HE. Basically this refers to the fact that some subjects provide a better change of earning money that others, and that not all subjects are the same in terms of helping you get the famed “Graduate Job” with matching salary.  In its bluntest form this can relate to old issues of Arts subjects verses Science subjects, which is an incredible simplification of a complex area anyway. I believe this is probably related to the BBC post of several years ago which mentioned research showing that ‘A degree in an arts subject reduces average earnings to below those of someone who leaves school with just A-levels, a study shows.’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2823717.stm  Although this was from several years ago it obviously made an impact. Fuller information can be obtained from the governments own stats website. http://www.statistics.gov.uk/STATBASE/ssdataset.asp?vlnk=7431&More=Y  Of course this data can often throw up more questions than answers and we all know of exceptions to the rule, or reasons why the apparent failure to earn the ‘big money’ can be a rational choice by the student. However with all the talk about costs and debt, especially set against the recession we are currently experiencing I don’t think this sort of questioning will be going away anytime soon.  More current stats will be hampered by the fact that the economy which students are entering is very different that the one the data refers to. Watch this space I feel

Interesting in working in the NHS, but want to do a non medical degree ?

It is a cliché that the NHS only employs Nurses and Doctors, but even so other options are not always known to everyone. If you are planning to study a degree, whether it is Media Studies or Zoology and have ever thought what you can do with it, why not take a look at this site: http://www.whatcanidowithmydegree.nhs.uk. Great fun to see what you can do with a range of subjects…and you also learn more about Britains largest employer at the same time. approaximately 1.3 million people work in the NHS, could you be one of them ?

What other subjects areas are Strategically important ?

One thing that has brought out into clear focus with the extra 10,000 places is the key role that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), has to play on a strategic level for the future  economic health of the country, indeed this extra funding is to support the governments Policy Statement on  “Building Britain’s Future – New Industry, New Jobs”. As the press release says this is to “identifies key areas where Government action can have most impact, investing in growth to speed recovery and building manufacturing and services essential to ensure British people and businesses can compete successfully for the jobs of the future.”  You can read it in full here http://www.dius.gov.uk/~/media/publications/N/new_industry_new_jobs.  Whilst this is all good stuff there are shades of gray within the range of STEM subjects anyway, for example do we really need to increase the number of students studying Forensic Science at University beyond the numbers already heading into this subject ?  My other concern is that many people I speak with seem unaware that STEM is not the only game in town when it comes to strategically important subjects. Briefly the other ones are Area Studies and Related languages (covering the Arab World, China, Japan, Eastern Europe inc Russia),   Quantitative social science and finally Modern Foreign Languages.  Should these areas also benefit from more places or greater promotion ?  If you want to explore these in more depth it is worth checking them out at this report, which also gives some LMI on the salary you can expect in these fields http://www.hefce.ac.uk/aboutus/sis/SIVS_glossy.pdf