From education to employment

HE: How to improve value and make graduates work ready

Employers frequently complain that graduates aren’t work ready. Graduates complain about student debt and that degrees are poor value for money.

This situation cannot continue.

We have to ensure graduates in the UK are considered work ready by employers and that graduates believe their programme is good value for money.

If we continue to deliver the same old degree programmes, over a very short academic year, nothing will change.

So what can we do?

Change the shape of HE delivery

No graduate is going to be truly work ready unless they get some practical experience in the workplace. We understand that apprenticeships focus on a blend of practical and classroom or workshop based tuition. It is a major strength often quoted in the apprenticeship world.

So why not make this a feature of degree programmes? Why not include a fully integrated work placement within the time span it takes existing undergraduate providers to deliver a traditional degree? After all most degree programmes are effectively delivered over 22 weeks so there is plenty of time for undergraduates to work in business as well.

And if they are to be truly work ready why not include professional qualifications alongside the degree programme? We could even throw in a route towards membership of a relevant professional body. It would certainly make them more work ready and deliver much better value for money.

Reasons not to improve HE delivery

I’ve proposed elements of the above several times before. When I do I get lots of reasons why it will never work.

For example I’m told that there will be contractual problems, that the academic year is of the length it is for very good reasons: that it will be too expensive, that it isn’t possible to cram so much into a year, that there will be accommodation problems plus countless other reasons.

But all can be overcome if you really believe our students deserve better value for money and to be work ready on graduation.

Take the reason that undergraduates are ill prepared for work. What if we gave them a mandatory pre-placement programme where they learnt to produce good CVs and how to handle the interview process? What if they also learnt about the skills that employees really need? Things like dress codes, punctuality and how to act like a professional. Wouldn’t that put them ahead of most graduates? Might it even put them ahead of some employees?

So how about we give them an intensive pre-placement programme? What if we insist on good attendance and punctuality throughout their undergraduate days?

And if we can do this why can’t we overcome all the other reasons not to change HE for the better? After all we are professionals with the best interests of our students at the centre of all we do … aren’t we? 

Who will be first?

It is easy to wait until someone puts their head above the parapet and then follow their lead. There are plenty of “me too” organisations in the world.

But if you truly believe in the value of education and have student interests at the heart of your institution you don’t wait for others.

I’m aware of one university that is going to take the lead these new look degrees. The business degree offer will include a conventional degree, a route towards professional qualifications, and integrated work placements of up to 9 months. This will be delivered in the time most institutions take to deliver a conventional degree and at the same cost to students.

During placement the undergraduates will be fully supported by the university and return to university one evening a month to receive mentoring and/or academic study. Each will have gained at least one professional qualification and pre-placement training before taking their first steps into the real world of work.

The institution planning to deliver this in 2016 is Kingston University where the Business School is offering degrees that incorporate all the above, and the Law School is offering comparable degrees with integrated professional experience. I believe these programmes will lead to much better career opportunities, as well as less student debt.

Having known of this project for some time I foresee the day when every business degree, and very many others besides, will follow a similar programme. Will you be referring your students to Kingston for a degree that will accelerate their “learning, doing and achieving”?

Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US – visit: and

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