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FRANCE: University ranking by job success causes stir

A ranking of French universities according to their graduates' job prospects has been published by the Ministry for Higher Education and Research and welcomed by Minister Valérie Pécresse. But the exercise has been criticised by a specialist in graduate employment rates, the body representing university presidents, and by a national students' federation.

Jean Dubois, former director of the Observatoire des Formations des Insertions Professionnelles et Evaluations of the University Marne-la-Vallée, said the ranking was "only fit for the dustbin".

The ranking is the first carried out under the 2007 Universities' Freedoms and Responsibilities law, which specified that employment was a basic aim of higher education, and obliged universities to make publicly available information including indicators of their graduates' employment rates.

The survey of masters graduates from 2007 provided data on employment rates, levels of recruitment, what kinds of employers - public service or private company - and whether jobs were permanent or short-term contracts. It was conducted between December 2009 and July 2010, relating to two-and-a-half years after they had graduated.

Results were broken down by individual university, areas of study (law-economics-management; literature-languages-arts; social sciences; sciences, technologies and health) and discipline.

It found that overall more than nine out of 10 masters graduates were in work 30 months after they left university. On average 91.4% of the 42,000 graduates surveyed were employed, rising to 92.3% for those with degrees in sciences, technologies and health. Their 8.6% unemployment rate contrasts with a jobless rate in France for under-25s of 23%, slightly above average for Europe.

The university with the highest graduate employment rate was Orsay Paris-Sud-XI at 94.9%, followed by Lyon-I (94.5%), Paris-XIII and Rennes (94.3%). Those scoring lowest were La Réunion (77.6%) and Perpignan (84.1).

The ministry only included results with response rates of more than 30% of those questioned. A dozen universities out of 83 were excluded from the inquiry.

There have been previous studies on graduate employment, but this is the first attempt to rank universities on the issue.

Interviewed in Le Figaro Magazine Pécresse said families and students needed such information. "To choose the right subject at university and later succeed in the job market, they must be correctly informed on the performances of the different courses."

The exercise would give universities an instrument to guide them when considering what improvements were necessary for courses with least professional potential, and for the state which would take the results into account for funding, said Pécresse.

"Between now and 2012 we will compile true indicators of national performance which will be integrated into the calculations for allocating resources, as laid down in the 2007 law," she said.

But despite the minister's enthusiasm the ranking of universities has caused some controversy.

Jean Dubois, writing in his Histoires d'Universités blog on EducPros.fr, said to classify one university behind another because its unemployment rate was higher by 0.1% was a matter of "intellectual fraud".

It was a "sizeable scientific blunder" not to take account of three factors: the kind of education each university offered (for example, unemployment rates were lower for engineering than for arts graduates, and for 'professional' masters than for 'research' masters); the individual characteristics of the student population - breakdown by gender, age, social background, and type and grade of baccalauréat; and the characteristics of the regional job market.

The Conférence de Présidents d'Université (CPU), whose members provided the data, said the information did not convey individual universities' performance.

"The differences [between universities' results] are too slight and the indicators too few for any particular institution to use these results to devise a strategy."

Fage, the Fédération des Associations Générales Etudiantes, said the rankings could have "counterproductive effects, notably a risk of losing students from low-ranked universities". The employment ranking should not be the only criterion in a tool for choosing which university to attend. Neither could it be analysed without taking account of the socio-economic situation.

jane.marshall@uw-news.com
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