fixationwitheducation

August 24, 2011

Useful statistics that prospective applicants can understand. Really?

Filed under: Education,Employability — Ellie Franklin @ 11:28 pm
Tags: , ,

So the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) helpfully directs prospective students to the Unistat’s website where
statistics are available on degree UCAS tariff entry points, graduate jobs prospects and student satisfaction.

Helpful by intention, but this is a lot of incomprehensible data for those whom it is supposed to assist:

1. Firstly, I find it hard to reconcile the number shown there for the subject I teach at the university where I teach to what I know the entry requirement for the degree is. For the actual average according to Unistat to be lower than the minimum requirement it takes a very large volume of low UCAS points students that would have been taken on during Clearing. And that’s not what I understand has been happening in the last couple of years with the surge for university places before the higher fees come into effect. I don’t know, may be I am blinded by bias, but I don’t see how this statistic is right, and if it is (which I don’t think it is) – how is it that useful (other than to tell prospective applicants which universities recruit higher academic achievers which is kind of obvious from the entry requirements in their prospectuses, isn’t it). I guess it tells something about demand and the discount to points offered by suppliers to attract the needed demand. So I can live with it in principle (although I remain unsatisfied with the calculation method of that statistic; what’s the methodology anyway?)

2. The second statistic given is the “% of employed with graduate jobs”. You click on the definition but the explanation provided leaves you non-the-wiser about how Unistat define “graduate jobs”. Do they mean “graduate training schemes with blue chip organisations”? Because if that’s what they mean, it is not what is transparently clear from the presentation and definition. Even if one was persistent in trying to find out what “graduate job” is and does check out the “Standard Occupational Classifications” referred to by the definition – one remains in the dark. I am sorry, but I just don’t get it. I don’t know how to read this data. And I
can’t help thinking that actually, most prospective applicants will not go through the various steps like me trying to understand; what they will read is “% of students in employment” full stop. And that’s blatantly wrong! Especially for a widening participation university like mine where a lot of kids would have come through non-traditional backgrounds, and by the definition
of “widening-participation” do not meet the pre-university academic entry requirements of the “blue chip graduate schemes” and would therefore be in other employment, potentially  falling outside the definition of “graduate jobs”, whatever that is, but actually being the jobs that graduates got. This is wrong! This is self-perpetuating wrong! And misleading. If Unistat purports to provide helpful statistics it should perhaps show the % of those in employment (any type), then those in “graduate schemes” but define that explicitly, not ambiguously.

3. The student satisfaction % statistic given is also a good idea. I find it the most difficult to critique. It is useful, no question about it. But there is so much behind it that remains completely invisible to the user of the data on Unistat’s website – for example, how many students, or what proportion of the student population took part in the survey, was it 2 students voting “happy”
resulting in a 100% “happy” rate? Or was it 250 voting differently for a variety of reasons (what are those?) resulting in a lower, say 90% “happy” rate. Prospective students never get to see why those who are “unhappy” are in fact that way. So?

Well, good attempt at comparability between universities. Sadly, not ideal. Do users (prospective students and their parents) understand that? And of course there is the disclaimer. It reads:

“The content of the website is for general information only and does not constitute any form of advice or recommendation upon which a specific decision should be made.”

‘Nuff siad.

Useful links:

UCAS http://www.ucas.com/unistats/

Unistat  http://unistats.direct.gov.uk/englishIndex.do?t=20110925120940475

Standard Ocupational Classification (Office for National Statistics) http://www.ons.gov.uk/about-statistics/classifications/current/index.html

August 5, 2011

Nudges

Filed under: Education,Employability — Ellie Franklin @ 11:14 am
Tags: , ,

Ian Stewart’s (Delloite) excellent Monday Morning Briefing last week brought to me “Nudge”, a book written by US economists Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler as a guide to applying behavioural economics to policy problems.

Two clicks on iPad’s Kindle App and £5 quid later I was reading “Nudge”

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nudge-Improving-Decisions-Happiness-ebook/dp/B004YKSXXS/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1312541264&sr=1-3

I have to admit that I was more inerested in the applicaiton of “nudges” to everyday life scenarios – from taking the peanuts bawl away to stop you from going on until you ate them all, to “positioning” apple slices and book activities at eye level in my kitchen instead of the unhealthy and less educational alternatives that a child passing though can choose to engage with.

But also the possibilities in my work, in education.

I work for a “new” British university which prides itself on widening participation for non-traditional entrants to higher education (largely those turned away by “red brick” institutions). A problem that has become more acutely noticeable in the economic downturn of late is that despite all efforts of academics to deliver an outstanding provision, our students do not fair as well in the post-education employment stakes. I believe part of the problem is that our students (not all of them of course, but a large proportion) lack the social capital to support them in making wise choices and developing strategies about entering employment (for e.g. a large number of students are first generation university attendees, whose parents are perhaps less well equipped to steer in the right direction at the right time; a large proportion of our students never find the need to visit the Careers office or do so only in their final year when it is arguably a bit late; don’t look for relevant summer time or part time work while at university which can only make their CV more attractive at the point of applying for graduate positions, not to mention the possibility of being offered a graduate position upon graduation by the company where one completed a work placement, internship or a voluntary engagement.

This is a huge canvas for nudging as far as I am concerned.

 To encourage my students to start the process of thinking about “getting a job” strategy I have tried to incorporate in my assessment strategy a series of tasks which reward students with 1 mark towards their final grade if completed (a method that two colleagues of mine – Richard Jones and Toby York had successfully implemented prior to that with the aim of increasing engagement with the subjects they teach). My tasks are “employability” oriented – defining career aspirations and objectives, doign a job search, putting together a CV in response to an advertisement of interest, skills gap analysis, answering mock interview questions. Students choose whether to “bother” to complete these tasks worth 1 mark only. A very large number of them do. So I believe I am making some difference in starting their thought process about future employment early enough which should benefit them in the long run. Where I fall short is in my inability to provide them with feedback on the quality and content of their task submissions due to resource constraints (me versus 250 students). So I know that largely they are doing it (the nudge works), but I don’t know how well. Yet. This project is a work in progress.

 What I dream of having the authority to do is make work placements, internships or voluntary work a compulsory element of our university’s degrees. At the moment that is an option and very few students take that up, the majority in effect forfeiting a potentially valuable experience and opportunity. Is having the work based element as a default in the degree too wild a nudge?

 On a more personal note – this is what I am musing over:

My son was born and is growing up not in the country where I did those same things – Bulgaria. I would very much like him to have appreciation of his heritage, speak the language, respect the traditions, and quite frankly – feel Bulgarian alongside feeling British and as part of feeling European. I struggle to think of effective nudges in that direction other than signing him up for Bulgarian School at the Embassy which he attends for a couple of hours a week and treats as play group for the time being. Once the “play group” effect is over – I can’t think of much that would incentivise him to continue with studying what he would have otherwise been immersed in had we lived in Sofia instead of London. I certainly don’t want to force anything as that will build resentment. So this “not pushy” mu really wants to push. But how. Any suggestions?

Blog at WordPress.com.