The purpose of university is, ultimately, to prepare students for employment. While there is ample value in the other benefits - expanding students' minds, meeting new people, living away from home - it's their ability to find a job that will in the end make their time at university "worth it".
However, the relevance of degree content equipping students with skills required for the workplace has been called into question. Increasing fees and the cap on the amount students can take out for loans has made this issue particularly stark. To justify their course fees, universities must prove they are able to produce students that are able to find employment quickly (and start paying off their loans). But with student numbers continuing to climb, the pressure of this meeting the employment metric increases for universities.
A report published in September 2018 by the Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, accused Australian universities of not sufficiently preparing their students for employment. It called for a complete overhaul of bachelor degrees, ensuring they have much more of a focus on 'emerging skills as the economic impetus for them arises'.
Without doing so, Australian universities supposedly run the risk of becoming irrelevant or losing out to alternative education providers such as those that operate online.
Or, another option may be that employers simply stop requiring a university degree because they no longer see the value in them. Google and EY are two big names that already don't require a Bachelor's, according to Glassdoor. Other employers may soon follow suit.
The numbers say otherwise
Even with all the news commentary, there are some hard stats that suggest Australian universities are, for the most part, succeeding in preparing grads for employment:
- The 2017 Employer Satisfaction Survey found that 84 per cent of graduates' direct supervisors were satisfied with their employees.
- Nine out of 10 graduates are employed full-time within three years of finishing university, according to Professor John Dewar Vice-Chancellor, La Trobe University, writing in Universities Australia.
- Five Australian universities appear in the Times Higher Education's 2017 Global University Employability Ranking.
While it appears that the majority of universities are finding success at creating employment-ready grads, there is always more that can be done.
Methods for increasing graduate employability
Several tactics have been proposed as ways of increasing the employability of grads in Australia.
Many advocate introducing a work experience element to courses. The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) found that 92 per cent of students want placements, work experience or internships as part of their university experience. However, the same study found that less than half of students have access to these opportunities. Increasing access to practical work elements is one way to improve grad employability.
Enterprise skills an important differentiator
"Enterprise skills" is a term that crops up in much of the discourse on graduate employability. In an analysis of 4.2 million job advertisements, a Foundation for Young Australians report found that what it categorises as "jobs of the future" (those that are least likely to be automated) demand enterprise skills 70 per cent more than jobs of the past.
Demand for critical thinking skills has increased by 158 per cent.
These are elements like creative and innovative thinking, critical thinking, problem-solving, commercial awareness, and communication skills. The FYA report, for example, found that demand for critical thinking skills has increased by 158 per cent.
Some subjects are better at instilling their students with enterprise skills than others, so introducing measures that ensures these skills are taught to all students, regardless of discipline, is one way to solve the employability question.
Studiosity is proud to support graduate employability. Our writing feedback service encourages critical thinking - highlighting areas where a student has gone wrong in an essay so they can correct themselves in future instances. When everyone has a degree, creative problem solving and independent thinking are the things that can be the difference in whether or not a graduate gets a job.
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