This week’s Universities Australia Higher Education Conference – Degrees of Change – is set to look at the role that universities play in securing Australia’s prosperity, with particular focus on “the social and economic contribution that universities make to society at a local, national and global level.” That universities do make a big contribution is a given. However, when it comes to evidencing what this contribution looks like, especially around graduate outcomes, very often instead of solid details there is something of a void.
For example, how many universities out there have a good understanding of what their graduates do after completing their studies? How many know who their alumni work for? How many are aware of what occupations they are employed in and the skills they are using?
The answer to these questions is “not many,” but there is of course a good reason for this. Both internal data and official data (for instance, QILT graduate employment data) are extremely limited in terms of their ability to answer these questions, and so those questions remain unanswered and universities are left making assumptions based on incomplete data, anecdotal evidence, or perhaps even guesswork about their contribution to employability and outcomes.
Yet if universities are making a big contribution to prosperity, surely there must be ways that this can be measured more accurately. Furthermore, as stakeholders are increasingly demanding evidence of the difference they are making to graduate outcomes in a quickly changing economy, it becomes imperative for universities to improve their answers to this challenge. The question is how?
If the problem is basically one of a lack of quality internal and external data, the answer must surely be to identify and embrace data that can actually give answers to these questions. That is, data that can enable a university to explore:
- The outcomes of its graduates by course area
- The career pathways of its graduates in terms of occupations that are both related and unrelated to their area of study
- The geographic distribution of its graduates
- The outcomes of its alumni in terms of employers and industry
- A comparison of its outcomes via a national, state or peer group benchmark
With these sorts of insights to hand, a university can not only speak to the question of its contribution to prosperity in terms of quantifying numbers — X % of our students end up in Higher Management positions, for instance — but it can also use this to qualify its position as improving outcomes and employability to the Government and regulatory bodies beyond the anecdotal.
Furthermore, insight of this nature is bound to be helpful in a number of other areas, where it raises questions, such as:
- How can the data be used to shape our future portfolio and skills planning?
- How can we use it to help our existing students understand potential career?
- How can we use the insight in our marketing and outreach?
- How can we use the data on employers and industry to reach out to business?
- How can we use the benchmark figure to improve future outcomes?
As you can see from these questions, using quality data on graduate outcomes will enable a university to think far more holistically about its current economic and social contribution, as well as open up many new avenues of discussion regarding how its future contribution can be improved.
As the focus of this week’s conference shows, the issue of the social and economic contribution made by universities is a hot topic. And it is so not just because it is true – that’s obvious – but because there is more and more pressure on universities to qualify and quantify what their impact actually is.
Anecdotal evidence and vague statements about improving employability are not up to this task. Rather, what is needed is solid evidence that a university can use to show clearly what their graduates are doing, and how their lives have been improved by the education they received. Only by incorporating this sort of insight into the life of the institution can a university properly rise to the challenge of articulating its relevance in a quickly changing economy.
To find out more about how we can give you this kind of insight, contact us now.