How Many Students In University After The Recession?

Almost half of British industries have no intentions of employing any of the hundreds of thousands of new graduates who will flood the job market in the next three months, according to a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and KPMG, reported in today’s Independent.

Gerwyn Davis, public policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has said:  “It is going to be a long, hot summer for many of this year’s graduates and school leavers, as they sweat over their chances of finding work. Employers have for a long time had doubts about the employability skills of those leaving education, and this year’s crop face employers in a more choosey mood than ever before. Against this backdrop, graduates and school leavers need to sharpen their case for being picked ahead of their classmates – and fast.”

The question is, what will be the lesson learnt for those who are still in high school, but who observe what is happening to their older peers after graduation. In all likelihood they will take it into account when deciding whether to go into higher education when their time comes.

What will be the outcome for universities in the future, when government targets of getting 50 per cent of young people into higher education are weighed against consideration that the average graduate today, who is likely to be leaving university owing £16,000 for tuition fees, is considered for employment by only 50% of employers? And given that bodies like the very Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, mentioned above, come forward with advice like “Employers have for a long time had doubts about the employability skills of those leaving education… students need to get work experience, demonstrate a broad range of non-study related skills…” A university degree is no longer the surest way to a good job. In fact, the winner of the “Best Job in the World”, (care-taker of a tropical island with a salary of 70 000 UKP) advertised by the Australian Board of Tourism landed the job in tough global competition, after an innovative marketing campaign that highlighted the power of social media, rather than qualifications and diplomas (you can see some of the applications on Youtube here:

The first universities were institutional innovation centres which emerged in the 12th to 14th century Europe as a result of the need to consolidate and expand intellectual resources in response to increasing demands for knowledge and skills in the economy and society. Despite debates whether universities have remained these “medieval organisations,” unchanged over the 700-800 years of their existence or have been transformed by major changes, consensus seems to prevail about intensifying pressures for reform in higher education institutions today. It is important that planning and management are not dominated by short-term thinking about immediate problems and maintaining established practices. Neglect of the long term is increasingly problematic in meeting the challenges of complexity and change in higher education. In order to be able to look beyond the constraints of the present, especially when the investment of significant resources is concerned, higher education institutions need to sharpen their capacity to systematically explore and connect together various driving forces, trends, and conditioning factors so as to envisage alternative futures for themselves and for higher education.

Sandra Romenska

BDRA, 26 May 2009


Shared pedagogic research interests and the sustainability of learning and teaching

Oxford Brookes University has a CETL called the Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Network (HLSTN). In 2007 the CETL published a special edition of its LINK newsletter. It was on small projects completed up to 2006 that had received support from the HLSTN’s pedagogic research fund. I worked with the authors to produce 27 edited summaries for the newsletter.

The projects reflect interests of HLST staff across the country: e-learning, employability, sustainability, assessment and feedback, work-based learning, PDP and key skills, interdisciplinarity, student motivation, internationalisation and cultural values, reflective practice, research methods, student retention, problem-based learning, the first-year student experience, foundation degree delivery, learning styles, widening participation, student performance, academic writing and quality assurance.

Although these projects were all embedded in the HLST sector, I could not help noticing when I re-read them recently that the University of Leicester – and Beyond Distance  in particular – share many of these interests. Some of them are national themes.

Sustainability is a concept with many angles, including green ones, but I’ve just read the report published by HEFCE nearly six months ago about the sustainability of learning and teaching in English higher education.* Its message is that this learning and teaching is unsustainable at current funding levels and with current student numbers. Staffing, buildings and equipment are inadequate now and will become more so. Our international standing and competitiveness are at stake. This finding surprised me, because under Labour education has experienced relative plenty.

In a recession, with a huge national debt, how can financial sustainability be attained? In 2007/08, says the report, the higher education sector delivered efficiencies of at least £202m; figures for 2008/09 are not yet available. Further efficiencies will no doubt be demanded. The sector may lose, not gain, government funding.

I don’t know the answer, except that economies of scale must be found, possibly through increased use of e-learning. But to date e-learning has been seen as an add-on cost. A couple of years ago a paper** made the case for distance learning (not e-learning as such) systems offering substantial savings in carbon emissions over campus systems. That’s another kind of sustainability.


*JM Consulting (2008) The sustainability of learning and teaching in English higher education. A report prepared for the (HEFCE) Financial Sustainability Strategy Group.

**Roy, Robin, Potter, Stephen and Yarrow, Karen (2007) ‘Designing low carbon higher education systems: environmental impacts of campus and distance learning systems’. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9, 2, 116-129.

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