New directions for university careers services?

Recent report suggests changes to careers offer

A recent report based on work undertaken by Demos and published by Endsleigh, ‘Class of 2010’, calls for “a radical overhaul in the way that university careers services currently function”. The report recommends that careers services are turned into not-for-profit recruitment consultancies for their universities.

Setting this exciting proposition to one side for the moment, there is more interesting data about 2010 graduates in the report:

The research, carried out by leading think tank Demos over the past six months, examined the Class of 2010s’ aspirations and concerns on issues such as university life, the job market, family and community life, politics and the environment. Rising numbers of graduates are prioritizing commitments to care for their children and parents in their old age (a third of male graduates are willing to sacrifice their career in order to care full time for their children). Graduates are prioritizing work/life balance and social relevance of their job over starting salary. 89% of graduates rate climate change as an important global issue and a quarter of graduates would turn down a job offer if the employers environmental credentials weren’t up to scratch.

Certainly a surprise this as it is difficult, at the height of a recession, to imagine graduates turning down jobs on the basis they are concerned about some elements of a company’s environmental policy.

However, the other major point relates to the role of the university careers service and here we have some outstanding suggestions:

One of the key conclusions of the report proposes a role that universities and local businesses might be able to play in assisting graduates find work. The recommended change to the function of the careers service is expected to:

– Reduce the graduate skills gap and graduate unemployment

– Foster a closer relationship between the student and their careers service over the course of their degree

– Assist universities in raising additional funds that would be channeled into education and training activities as well as into small grants to encourage student and graduate enterprise

– Help the government’s localism agenda by encouraging graduates to live and work in a town or city close to their university

This does rather suggest that the authors have had only the most limited exposure to careers services. Indeed, reading the report it seems they have based their recommendations solely on the messages received from a small number of students and their own experiences. They should really have visited the University of Nottingham Centre for Career Development. A good university careers service does all of the things they recommend, investing significant time, effort and resource in order to address all of these points and, yes, they are not-for-profit agencies.

On ‘The Edgeless University’

The Edgeless University – Demos

Available for download: via Demos Publications

This is an interesting paper which identifies a range of significant technological challenges for higher education. It is suggested that universities are on the brink of an electronic revolution like the music industry in 1999 but struggling to make sense of the opportunities or understand the strategic options:

The next stage of technological investment must be more strategic. The sector currently lacks a coherent narrative of how institutions will look in the future and the role of technology in the transition to a wider learning and research culture.

A reasonable enough proposition although this in the context of welcoming the far-sighted establishment of JANET seems a little bit harsh – it is difficult to get much more strategic than setting up a successful shared sector wide network like this.

Many of the specific points made in the report are quite pertinent (if not entirely novel):

    – openness in terms of publication of research and free access to IP remains a difficult agenda;

    – the importance of recognising the value of teaching in the context of potentially distorting RAE/REF demands is a challenge;

    – high quality e-learning, discrete or blended, is about much more than just providing new tools – it requires huge investment and support;

    – the value of face-to-face learning and teaching should not be discounted.

Fairly straightforward agenda there then.

However, some of the ideas in here are just plain wrong. In particular the idea that there is a deficit of flexible study pathways for credit-based learning and that somehow it is the role of government to take a specific policy lead in this area:

Government policy must help higher education institutions develop new ways of offering education seekers affiliation and accreditation. This might include shorter pick-and-mix courses and new forms of assessment.

Then there is the particularly misguided idea of seeking to reconcile “informal learning” with the formal system of higher education:

Informal learning is growing in popularity and significance, and attracting the attention of politicians, but there are problems in reconciling informal learning with formal frameworks, and managing the relationship between institutions of higher education and the kinds of learning that happen outside them. We have yet to find a model for collating learning from many different sources. Funding and the structure of learning in formal higher education tend to militate against this.

There is a good reason for this – if “informal learning” can be recognised then there are actually costs in doing so and, in order to have currency, it has to be within an educational framework of some kind. More often than not though, such learning will be just “informal” – it is difficult to argue that mainstream HE provision should be skewed to cope with such marginal activity. Indeed, there remains significant adult and continuing education provision parts of which are structured for this purpose.

The overall conclusion though is pretty difficult to argue with:

In building the e-infrastructure for higher education we should not just build around the needs of institutions as they exist already. To pursue the possibilities of the ‘Edgeless University’, technology will have to be taken more seriously as a strategic asset. Technology is a driver for change. But we should harness it as a solution, a tool, for the way we want universities to support learning and research in the future.

So, the future is ‘edgeless’ it seems.