Undergraduate students say they are not equipped for work

Undergraduate students say they are not equipped for work

Results from UKES 2016, the HEA’s undergraduate engagement survey, released today, show that while overall 88% of undergraduates say they find their course challenging, just 51% reported that they have strongly developed the skills that ready them for the world of work and will help them get a job.

The UKES 2016 survey of over 23,000 undergraduates is the only major undergraduate survey in the UK higher education sector that measures students’ engagement with their studies.

This year’s survey highlights strong levels of engagement through course challenge:

  • 94% of students’ report taking responsibility for their own learning
  • 88% are ‘challenged to do their best work’

Less encouraging, however, is that only 27% of undergraduates have discussed ideas with staff outside class and still fewer, 20%, had talked to staff about their career plans. While the levels of engagement in pre-and post-1992 institutions were broadly comparable in areas such as critical thinking and course challenge, students at post-1992 institutions would appear to engage more closely with staff (37%), than those at pre-1992s (26%).

By measuring both engagement and skills development within the same data set, UKES can pinpoint links between the two. In this case, HEA analysis shows that students who collaborate most with staff and other students are also the most likely to feel their career skill development has been maximised– highlighting the importance of trying to improve the relatively low levels of engagement in these areas.

The report paints a very positive 86% score across all subject areas for students in developing their skills as independent learners. Nevertheless, there are striking differences in some of the softer skills areas, for example where some STEM subjects – mathematics in particular – showed much lower levels of development than social studies or subjects allied to medicine.

HEA Chief Executive Professor Stephanie Marshall said, “It’s very encouraging to see that students are closely engaged with their degree programmes and taking responsibility for their learning.

“But the lower scores around interaction with staff show that opportunities are being missed to help and support students to develop as more rounded individuals. And that’s important in helping students fulfil their potential beyond university. We are working with several institutions, both in the UK and internationally, to support their engagement and employability strategies. We are finding these strategic approaches make a difference.

“At the other end of the student journey, institutions may want to use this evidence to look at how they engage with first year students as they transition into university. The relatively lower engagement score for this group may be explained by students having to adapt their learning styles, and UKES provides insight and data to support approaches to easing this transition.”

UKES is designed to generate data to inform drivers of enhancement of the student experience within institutions. Data can be used to identify areas where students are spending their time and ‘engaging’, thereby bringing about ‘deep’ learning, as well as where they are not spending as much time as expected. All this information can also be combined with students’ perception of how they are developing their higher-level skills to promote meaningful dialogue that enables institutions, and the sector overall, to ensure pedagogic approaches which bring about the best possible student learning outcomes.”

From a personal perspective, I facilitate a professional practice course in several higher education institutions as a consultant. I find that career development is very often not integrated into the course but as always there are two sides to this story:

  1. That students do not always take 100% responsibility for the design and development of their career. Indeed 46% of the students I teach have no idea as to what they want to do or what their passions in life are.
  2. That access to a careers service is often separate to the degree course and that students are not aware of the service or don’t bother or the service is overloaded.

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Lesley Strachan (MBA) is an Award-winning coach| consultant| speaker| trainer and adviser and is based in Hampshire, UK. She is also a Certified Jack Canfield Trainer in The Success Principles and uses her creativity and experience to inspire others through teaching, mentoring and coaching all over the world and has loads of fun doing it. Lesley has over 30 years of experience working in the corporate and education sectors as well as years of experience as an Entrepreneur. Her areas of expertise include: personal life coaching, communication training, leadership training, corporate training, health and wellness, and educational consultancy. Lesley is also a mentor for young people for EBP and an Enterprise Adviser for The Careers and Enterprise Company

Lesley’s latest book is due out in May 2018 called “The Ultimate Guide for Parents: How to help your kids become self-confident, happy and passionate.” Pre-Order Lesley’s Book and watch a mini webinar which explains what the book is about.


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