An independent evaluation of the Office for Students’ (OfS) Challenge Competition aimed at providing support for local students has today been published.
Universities, colleges and employers are found to be taking steps to provide students with skills and knowledge to enhance their employability in their local areas, with 89 per cent of student participants positive about their engagement.
In 2018, the OfS launched a funding competition for universities and colleges looking for innovative ways to help students find graduate-level employment close to home.
This programme invited providers to develop and implement projects to identify ways of supporting the transition to highly skilled employment and improving outcomes for graduates who seek employment in their home region.
Today, an independent evaluation of the programme from Careers Research & Advisory Centre has been published.
The report found that:
- 89 per cent of student or graduate participants were positive about their participation
- 87 per cent of employers participating in the programme reported that their participation had brought value to their business.
Among the 16 funded projects, Birmingham City University and Aston University aimed to reduce graduate unemployment through productive partnerships including with the local Job Centre Plus network. The project resulted in 220 unemployed programme completers securing a work placement or job, and 172 programme completers securing a graduate-level work placement or job.
Projects also reported increases in interest in working in the local labour market. Projects at Newcastle College University Centre and the University of Nottingham directly facilitated transition into the local labour market, and the report found that participants tended to remain in the local labour market at the end of the programme.
Canterbury Christ Church University’s project aimed at a range of minority groups created a new recruitment model for graduates by collaborating with employers and students to ensure the programme developed skills and abilities that match the requirements of a workplace. 225 employers signed up to the project offer and 16 employers committed to being employment mentors. The programme is now a permanent part of the university’s service to students and businesses.
Some projects were also recognised nationally for the innovative work they have undertaken, including:
- Birmingham City University’s 2022 Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services Award for Excellence in Building Effective Partnerships
- De Montfort University’s 2021 Times Higher Education award for Outstanding Support for Students
- Manchester Metropolitan’s Guardian University Award for Course Design, Retention and Student Outcomes in 2020.
Through the projects, students have gained confidence in their ability to pursue their desired career, developed clarity of career intention, employability technical skills, and an understanding of local labour markets.
Employers found that the project improved recruitment processes supporting graduate applicants from diverse backgrounds and improved awareness of the value of employing graduates. The project also improved market insights, particularly relating to young people’s perspectives and interests, and created new skills leading to business improvements, notably technical and digital skills.
The projects covered a wide range of areas including boosts to digital skills, additional support for unemployed graduates and job matching skills for students from a range of minority groups.
John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said:
‘For too long, the social mobility that came from accessing higher education, more-or-less required geographic mobility, forcing on students a choice between graduate-level work and being close to one’s family and community. This Challenge Competition was designed to address the shortage of graduate opportunities for graduates who wish to stay in their local areas after university and college.
‘This programme has positively impacted on the confidence, skills, and sense of belonging for participating students and graduates, including students from disadvantaged backgrounds, which many of the projects were aimed at.
‘Universities and colleges have successfully collaborated with students and local employers to identify the obstacles facing students who look for employment locally, and find practical solutions.
‘Many of these projects were active during the pandemic, and it’s encouraging to see how universities, colleges and employers adapted these projects to support and strengthen student’s confidence and employability know-how.
‘We endeavour to work towards resolving the recommendations made by this evaluation including considerations of the sustainability of project activities beyond initial funding. Every student should be supported to pursue their desired career, wherever they choose to pursue this. We will continue to work to ensure that future students benefit from this rewarding programme that allows them to use the full potential of their degrees to support local and regional productivity, prosperity and social mobility.’