The Education Committee has today (8 Dec) published the written evidence for its inquiry into value for money in higher education.
This is the written evidence from Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recommending to:
Use appropriately benchmarked and contextualised performance data, including via the TEF, to clearly communicate the value of different courses
Graduate outcomes data has an important role to play in providing greater transparency and information to prospective students however any reforms based on the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) must recognise and protect the diversity of disciplines already provided by the higher education sector.
To allow prospective students to make an informed choice about where and what to study, information on graduate employment outcomes should be expanded to cover course studied and institution attended.
Preparation for work is an important element of higher education and so effectively measuring graduate outcomes is crucial. With students increasingly asking whether a university education represents value for money and growing concern about graduate outcomes, it is important that university applicants have access to information about graduate outcomes based on the course studied as well as the institution attended. The government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has rightly sought to measure employment outcomes for students at different institutions and, in doing so, helped to enabled greater student choice.
Previous ways of collecting data on graduate outcomes were inadequate and failed to effectively capture the trajectory of graduates and thus the information needed to make a genuine choice.
The previous primary method of collecting this information – the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey – measured graduate employment six months after graduation meaning it only ever captured a snapshot of graduate outcomes and could not provide an accurate picture of trajectory that graduates undertake following university. In addition, this data failed to demonstrate how the graduate premium differed based on the course and institution attended, making it hard for a prospective student to make a genuine choice of where to study.
Consequently, we welcome the government’s recognition of the need for more sustained graduate outcomes measured over a longer time period.
The Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data provides greater transparency and information for students and employers, helping to demonstrate to what extent a university degree represents value for money.
In linking up tax, benefits, and student loans data, the information produced by LEO data provides the longitudinal data that universities have previously desired whilst also providing an important information set that can allow students to make a more considered and informed choice when deciding on post-16 routes.
Crucially, this helps create more empowered students as it demonstrates graduate outcomes based on both course studied and institution attended. Particularly in the context of value for money, research by the IFS has demonstrated that, although the graduate premium varies based on gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background, there is still significant private benefit from attending university.
In addition, this richer data set also allows for more detailed insight into the challenges within the graduate labour market which can then be addressed much more directly. This is the case with the gender pay gap, with LEO data showing a disparity in the earning outcomes between men and women across every subject, barring only English Studies.
Any changes based on graduate outcomes data however must be dealt with sensitively and appropriately in order to protect the diversity of the higher education system.
To ensure a genuine choice for students is maintained, it is important that any changes to the TEF based on graduate outcomes data recognises the breath and diversity of universities. Many graduates want a ‘good job’ but this does not always just equate to earnings and there are many factors that influence salary which are beyond the control of higher education institutions – such as gender, ethnicity, social class and prior attainment, as well as location, industry and the overall performance of the economy. As the CBI has argued previously, some universities with a strong regional presence are in areas with few ‘graduate jobs’, and on graduating students may choose to remain in the region initially in non-graduate positions, or as entrepreneurs. While their career prospects may be enhanced by their studies, initially this will not appear to be the case.
To protect choice, graduate outcomes metrics should be benchmarked more effectively to ensure that universities are not penalised due to their student intake, subject specialisms or location.
Whilst we welcome the government’s recognition over the need for benchmarking metrics relating to graduate outcomes, the use of a threshold of £21,000 will still penalise certain institutions based on their student intake, subject specialisms (such as those who supply a high percentage of the nursing, midwifery and teaching professions, or who specialise in the arts or creative industries) and those in areas with a less buoyant graduate jobs market. It is essential that the use of any metrics based on graduate outcomes recognises this fact and uses intelligent benchmarks based on relevant metrics in order to protect the diversity of the higher education sector against any distortive impacts that a nationwide flat salary threshold could have.