University-employer links boost graduate employability

New analysis has uncovered explicit links between employer engagement with higher education institutions that show enhancement of teaching and learning, and improvements in students’ employability.

Analysis of the findings from 200 universities and colleges reviewed since 2010 by Britain’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, or QAA, shows that engagement with employers, as part of the design and delivery of the curriculum, can be central to student employability and workforce development.

Although the results are based on British experience, they reflect the findings of surveys in other countries and would clearly apply to the outcomes of strong relationships between universities and employers elsewhere as well.

Effective engagement helps support the creation of graduates with the appropriate skills, knowledge and expertise required by local employers, says a report of the study.

It notes that the benefits arising from links between employers and higher education providers include:
  • • The opportunity to gain work-relevant skills, experience and knowledge, and in some cases professional qualifications and accreditation, as part of programmes of study;
  • • The creation of 'work-ready' graduates for employers, equipped with the skills, knowledge and experience required for the workplace;
  • • Opportunities for developing skills within the workforce through a variety of high-quality flexible study opportunities, delivered in response to need and demand.
“We know that employability is a massive driver for higher education students at this time, and that employers want the very best graduates they can get,” says QAA's head of engagement, Chris Taylor.

“So it’s really important that we support both students and providers in trying to understand what is successful in this area, and how we can build upon it collectively.”

Among the report's recommendations are suggestions to universities and colleges to encourage greater participation from employers in the approval, validation, review and monitoring of their courses; create more opportunities for practitioners and professionals to provide an input into the delivery of the curriculum; and create opportunities for staff to maintain current industry knowledge and experience.

Institutions should also ensure that there is equality of opportunity for students to participate in work-based learning activities and placements, within and across programmes and institutions, the report states.

The report is a forerunner to a primary research project conducted by the University of Warwick and market research firm IFF Research on the impact of employability initiatives offered by universities and colleges to their students. The Warwick report will be published in April.

* In November 2013, Kings College published a report based on research commissioned by QAA into students' perceptions of higher education. The report found that, within and beyond the classroom, students wanted the opportunity to build their employability skills through extra-curricular activities, internships and work placements.