Which university should I choose based on employability rankings?
World university employability rankings were recently published by TIMES and QS. While Australian National University, Monash University, The University of Melbourne and The University of Sydney appeared in both lists, they were ranked in a different order. Furthermore, The University of New South Wales appeared in one and The University of Queensland in the other. I was contacted by Xiaoning, a reporter with ABC International Chinese Service based in Melbourne, to comment on these results. Here is the resultant article (in Chinese) and the blog provides the rest of the commentary.
1. Why are there such differences for the two rankings (QS and Times)?
The rankings were calculated using different research methods and indicators. QS Graduate Employability Rankings are based on 5 scaled indicators:
PARTNERSHIP WITH EMPLOYERS
Employer's Presence on campus
Graduate Employment Rate
Some of these indicators can be objectively counted and others are highly subjective and context-dependent. Times Higher Education Employability Rankings are based on the results of online surveys with recruiters at a management level and with managing directors of international companies.
For example, the recruiters were asked to vote for universities in their country who they believe produce the best graduates in terms of employability. Scores were calculated based on these perceptual votes.
To complicate the matter of discrepant ranks even further, there are additional university employability rankings/lists and the included universities are different from those reported by QS and Times.
For example, the Australian Government publishes employment outcome scores on the QILT website – Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching www.qilt.edu.au According to the QILT data, the top three universities are University of Divinity, Charles Darwin University and University of Southern Queensland.
The Australian Financial Review includes an employability category in its annual higher education awards. This year, the shortlisted institutions were: Bond University, Marcus Oldham College, University of Queensland (awardee) and University of Sydney.
Bond University was also shortlisted for an international Reimagine Education Nurturing Employability award, which is co-hosted by QS and Wharton (results will be announced in early December).
2. What information do these rankings actually tell?
All that these lists and rankings can really indicate are some of the universities who are active and achieving in regards to graduate employability. In other words, a given university’s exclusion from these lists should not be used to judge their employability merits.
Furthermore, comparing the scores cannot be used to clearly establish one university as better than another. There are at least three reasons why even the standardised measures of employment outcomes used by Graduate Careers Australia (i.e. the percentage of graduates employed full-time four months following graduation) cannot be used to compare, rank and judge the merits of Australian universities.
• Some universities have a higher proportion of external/online students who are employed while studying thus inflating the scores.
• Universities in regional and remote areas have less access to industry head offices, business centres and government offices to provide students with internships and graduates with formal entry programmes and pathways. Furthermore, these universities are less likely to garner awareness of voting recruiters and managing directors (i.e. Times ranking).
• Overall, graduates of universities with a higher proportion of professional courses tend to achieve more full-time positions in shorter timeframes than do graduates from universities with more generalist, liberal and performing arts degrees and/or those universities who work with graduates to establish start-ups.
3. How competitive do you think Australia’s universities are in the world regarding their employability?
The tail-end of the global financial crisis is still being felt worldwide, in that graduate employability is problematic. Within this context, Australia’s universities appear to be competitive internationally regarding their employability. There are five indicators of this standing.
• International education is one of Australia’s highest export industries and one of the main reasons students give for choosing Australia is the employability value-add.
• Australia’s overall national employability rates (across institutions) are competitive in comparison with countries such as the UK and the USA.
• Through government bodies such as DFAT and Austrade, Australian educators are highly desirable employability trainers in developing countries. For example, this month, Dr Shelley Kinash completed an invited graduate employability training circuit in Sri Lanka and India where she presented strategies to teachers and university educators from over 50 different schools and universities. Feedback was that the workshops were “inspirational,” “practical” and “opened new vistas of thinking.”
• Australia is known for small business creation and is being internationally identified as a leader in improving employability through teaching students entrepreneurial thinking and approaches.
4. If a student is looking for a university where graduates stand a higher chance in the job market after he/she graduates, how reliable do you think the information provided in the rankings is? What other information should the student seek apart from the rankings?
Naturally, students and their parents are looking for universities that will set students up for a higher chance in the job market. University rankings, such as those provided by QS and Times, are not valid and reliable indicators on which to choose an institution. Instead, students and their parents should carefully examine university websites to see if there are positive responses to the following six questions.
• Is employability featured as central to the university’s mission and brand?
• Does the university advertise the quality of their career development centre and share the strategies that centre uses to support students?
• Are there wide varieties of student experiences and opportunities (beyond the classroom) advertised such as sport, clubs, student societies and music so that students emerge as well-rounded?
• Does the university advertise a strong and inclusive programme of internships, placements and other types of work experience?
• Does the university explain how it connects with industry and how it involves employers in student education?
• When the student drills down into his/her degree/course of choice, does the website provide detailed descriptions about the types of careers achieved by graduates from that programme? Does the programme information explain how employability is fostered? Furthermore, is there data about the percentage of employed graduates in the relevant industry?
While searching this information is not as straight-forward as looking at a simple ranked list of universities, finding the right employability match in the desired discipline/industry is well-worth the research effort.