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Report into student employability

Report suggests that university degrees do not equip students for work
Robbie Smith on Thursday 16th February 2012
Photograph: Frederick Bowerman

A recent survey conducted by Ernst & Young has revealed that students are unwilling to take risks and find it difficult to overcome setbacks.

The study, devised by the Centre of Applied Positive Psychology (Capp), found that students are better at building relationships and having a sense of humour than managing time effectively.

Following figures that reveal that 22% of 16-24 year olds are out of work, the findings are partly intended to assist students in ensuring that they are strong applicants for graduate jobs.
Alex Linley, Director at Capp, explained that students ought to focus on areas in which they are already strong 'rather than trying to cover all bases,' as this would help build confidence and 'improve levels of resilience.”

Stephen Isherwood, head of graduate recruitment at Ernst & Young added, 'A good degree from a respected university no longer guarantees students a job,' but that offers were made to candidates able 'to work hard and thrive in difficult situations.'

Some Oxford students, however, have expressed that they already feel well prepared by the Oxford system. Ania Dulnik, President of Oxford Women in Politics, said, 'The way in which the Oxford educational experience is structured for undergraduates inherently challenges them in a way that has them grappling with the said 'weaknesses' in the study. They are expected to manage their own time and workload, and to be brave and daring in their academic endeavours.”

A spokesperson for Oxford University agreed, saying, “First of all, an Oxford degree course is intellectually demanding, but secondly at the heart of an Oxford education lies the tutorial system. In the course of tutorials, students must learn to present and defend an argument with some of the best scholars in the subject. This helps to develop skills in key areas related to problem solving, leadership, and communication, which puts Oxford graduates at an advantage in the jobs market.”


Oxford may also quantitatively be in a stronger position than many other universities, as research conducted by its own Careers Service shows. A survey completed in 2009 compared the prevalence of certain skills among Oxford University students compared to 'UK students'. It found that in all but two out of eight categories, Oxford students were at least over 50% more likely to have the skills than those at other universities. The two categories, 'business and customer relations' and 'team working' indicated that 66% and 62% of Oxford students had 'about the same' level of skill as others.

The Careers Service can point to the development of certain schemes in response to these figures, such as Oxford Student Consultancy, which gives teams of 4-5 students the opportunity to work with local business on 'big, strategic decisions,' both assisting the business and allowing them to build “good commercial awareness.'

However, despite scoring well on 'leadership' in which around 64% of Oxford students were 'more likely' or 'much more likely' to have the skills than other students, a stark gender disparity exists, as far fewer women apply for leadership positions than men. Equally, the Careers Service found a gender disparity in salaries. In the Medical Sciences, 71% of male students earn the mean, compared to 41% of female students. There is a similar disparity, though not quite as strong, in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, although in Maths, Physical and Life Sciences, pay was roughly equal.


Lucy Hawkins from the Careers Service said that this issue is being actively addressed. 'We take the issue of gender equality very seriously, and offer both individual support and programmes like Springboard, a version of the award-winning Women’s Development Program developed uniquely for Oxford undergraduates. I’m particularly excited about Springboard as it squarely addresses the gender salary gap we see in Oxford students just 6 months after graduation.”

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