Three practical ways to improve graduate outcomes

While people choose to go to university for myriad reasons, there is substantive evidence to suggest that the primary reason for many is to secure a job in their field of study and enjoy a rewarding career.

However, the new UK graduate outcomes data shows only 45% of graduates (UK, undergraduate, full-time, paid work where work is the most important activity) actually ended up in a job which fit with their career plan or was exactly what they wanted. 

Moreover, one in five graduates (undergraduate) said they weren’t utilizing what they learnt during their studies and a staggering 33,000 didn’t need the qualification for the job.

In Australia, the story isn’t much better, where 28.3% of graduates (undergraduate, graduate outcome survey 2022) employed full-time indicated their job didn’t fully use their skills or education. Graduates also rated the importance of qualification for their current employment at only 53.7%.  

Reflecting on these numbers, it is clear that something needs to change. And, educational institutions, both in the UK and Australia, need to start exploring the reasons why this may be the case, and, more critically, consider what more they can do to address the issue.

Of course, there are reasons outside of a university’s control as to why graduates end up in jobs that aren’t exactly what they wanted or find themselves underutilized. Indeed, the Australian survey showed personal factors accounted for 27.6% of the underutilisation. And, in a working paper, Jeff Borland and Michael Coelli concluded that the labor market is crowded with young graduates, resulting in graduates taking fewer hours and working in lower paid positions and lower scoring occupations than their education would normally warrant.

However, there are three practical ways that institutions can do to improve job outcomes for graduates:

  1. Focus the curriculum on domain specific skills and knowledge, enterprise and employability skills, and technical and professional skills.
  2. Strengthen the connection between higher education and industry. 
  3. Empower students to take charge of their study choices and progression.

Focus the curriculum

In the Australian employer satisfaction survey (2022), supervisors indicated the top three ways the qualification could better have prepared their graduates for employment was through domain and specific skills and knowledge (34.9%), employability and enterprise skills (32.3%), and technical and professional skills (29.4%).  

Given these statistics, it stands to reason that one of the best ways to prepare graduates is by appropriately scaffolding authentic teaching and learning practices throughout the curriculum. And depending on how ‘real-world’ the authentic practices are, there can be an additional benefit gained by helping bridge the work experience gap. 

In the UK graduate outcomes survey, 15% of graduates said they took the job to get more experience for the job they want. And in the Australian survey, of the graduates who said they were underutilized, 28.4% reasoned that this was because they had taken the job as an entry level or career stepping stone and 11% reasoned that it was because they did not have enough work experience.  

This further supports the inclusion of work integrated learning (WIL), practicums, internships, nested or stacked credentials, and degree apprenticeships to enable working or gaining work experience while learning.  

From working with universities across the globe, we understand that being able to map and visualize curriculum relationships is one of the most effective ways to ensure work-based learning experiences like these fit seamlessly within the overall curriculum and enhance its quality for students. However, this can be a difficult undertaking.  

Our mission here at CourseLoop is to help universities by taking the complexity out of these kinds of academic activities. By working with our partners to understand how and why they map, and where they use mapping information, we’ve been able to create easy-to-use tools that enable the mapping process. And, because the curriculum information is drawn from a definitive source, any relationships created are automatically maintained.

Being able to map and visualize curriculum relationships, such as courses and learning outcomes, means that academics and curriculum teams who have WIL activities scaffolded throughout the curriculum can evaluate its quality at a whole-of-course level, or drill down to individual attributes to ensure assessments are constructively aligned to learning outcomes.    

Moving forward, as greater emphasis is placed on the inclusion of work-based learning along with increased focus on domain specific and other skills, institutions will need a solution like CourseLoop’s Curriculum Mapper to be able to effectively evaluate the impact of curriculum changes and demonstrate the quality of their course design.  


Strengthen industry partnerships

Of course, enhancing the curriculum with WIL other similar practices means institutions need a stronger connection with industry. 

Earlier this year the Australian University Accord discussion paper called for submissions about how the accord could support better collaboration with industry and how to support student placement arrangements in the years ahead. Many of the submissions from industry groups converged on the same points. 

In their submission, the Australian Industry (Ai) Group calls for greater partnership between industry and universities for teaching and learning, including co-design, co-development of content, co-delivery, co-credentialing and co-assessment as well as work integrated learning to be included in future higher education frameworks.

As the Ai Group put it, “increasingly industry must be the learning environment that students experience. Industry and universities must be intertwined to ensure graduates exit with the technical knowledge and generic skills needed”. They also said that the traditional qualification framework “does not reflect the reality of our continually transforming economy and community”.  

Further, the strengthening of industry partnerships where students have an early opportunity to experience their employment environments and play an active role in the partnership helps them get a foothold early on in their career and gain the much needed experience that holds them back.   

One such example of this placement-employment link in action was given at the Universities Australia conference earlier this year by an international nursing student at the University of Southern Queensland who was hired two weeks into her 480-hour clinical placement and assured a registered nurse position upon degree completion. This meant she was able to earn money and gain experience alongside her studies with a qualified position waiting for her at the end. 

We know from our university partners who have rich industry partnerships that an institution’s strength lies not only in their knowledge contribution to the subject area but with their experience in providing the academic oversight needed to assure curriculum quality. Additionally, they make certain that students are given the opportunity to reach the depth of learning expected of them.

By applying the same rigour to co-designed and -delivered courses that they would their own courses, higher education providers can enliven industry’s confidence and desire to meet that same level of standard, building a positive feedback loop for excellence. However, we have found that turnaround time is a common sticking point for industry partnerships. 

Having the agility to quickly create, change and approve new, innovative curriculum without compromising quality is essential. This is not just the case for a successful partnership with industry, it’s a strategic imperative for remaining competitive and reputable as a higher education provider where, although being a highly regulated sector (in Australia and the UK), non-traditional providers are on the rise and gaining industry and government acceptance. 

This is why, as a foundation, we support our partners with functionality that makes curriculum creation and governance activities simpler and more transparent. Partner academics and curriculum teams are able to work more efficiently, more collaboratively, and with greater oversight, which enables quick turnaround times while assuring quality. 


Empower students to take control of their studies

Just as higher education institutions are responsible for ensuring students have legitimate pathways and credible learning experiences that lead to qualifications and good outcomes, students have a responsibility to make decisions concerning their own education journey. However, students cannot be expected to master their own journey if they are not empowered to do so. 

The goal of publishing curriculum information and course relevant content has often been to attract students and meet regulations so students can make informed decisions. But institutions have an opportunity here to take it further. 

By providing this information in an easily discoverable and consumable way, and by giving students a clear line of progression to their qualification goal, institutions can elevate student engagement and increase their learners’ sense of ownership. This results in students not having to rely so heavily on student advising services to make a more meaningful connection between their learning activities and assessments, their progressive mastery of skills and knowledge, and the job pathway it leads to. 

Murdoch University, a CourseLoop partner, has taken student advising to the next level with their ‘Course Visualiser’. The Course Visualiser leverages structured curriculum information held within the CourseLoop Platform to engage students directly with their degree planning.

Dr Verity Morgan, Murdoch University’s Director of Quality and Standards, showcased the Course Visualiser in a recent webinar with CourseLoop CEO Brian Clark. Dr Morgan spoke about how study planning is deep-rooted in the student experience and when students actively engage in conversations about their curriculum they are able to understand the (course and curriculum) attributes that will enhance their chances of success post-graduation.  

One of the key points that Dr Morgan made was that this kind of handbook feature was only achievable because they manage and draw their curriculum data from a definitive source of truth (the CourseLoop Platform) that assures accuracy and maintains the correct rules and progressions.  

"Our goal at Murdoch University is to ensure that our curriculum provides a quality education experience, and I think that's more aligned when we can achieve alignment between the expectations of the students and their outcomes.

Dr Verity Morgan
Director of Quality and Standards, Murdoch University

Whilst graduate outcomes are not wholly within the control of higher education providers, there are some practical ways providers can improve employment opportunities. Enhancing the curriculum to include more authentic learning activities and increasing the depth of learning for domain specific skills can provide a more direct crossover to aligned job pathways. 

To ensure these changes are cohesive with the rest of the curricula (not just ad hoc add-ons) and that they act to enhance the quality of course design, curriculum relationships need to be mapped. However, mapping is a challenging task unless academics and curriculum teams are equipped with the right tools to do so. 

Strengthening partnerships with industry can result in better informed curricula that reflect the reality of modern workplaces as well as support more work-based learning experiences that help give students a foothold in their chosen industry. 

In these partnerships, not only can universities bring deep knowledge informed by research, but they have a duty to lead the governance process. Time consuming quality assurance can be a barrier to co-designed and -developed courses. Academics and curriculum teams need tools to quicken the approval turnaround time while ensuring proper oversight and assuring design quality.      

Empowering students to actively engage with the curriculum can help them understand how their learning tasks and progression of skills and knowledge mastery leads to the outcomes they expect, resulting in better ability to take control of their learning journey. 

To do this, students need access to accurate, up-to-date curriculum information presented in a structured and easy to consume format. This requires capability that draws from a definitive source of truth to publish modern handbooks (and program specifications) online as well as study planning ability to help navigate completion rules and provide students with a clear line of sight to their qualification goals.   

On the bigger picture, improving graduate outcomes is an important ‘collective’ goal for us to strive towards not only economically but for individuals on a deeper level. And given the student debt climate and advances in technology, this is especially important for individuals who may be questioning the value of education. 

CourseLoop is a true end-to-end curriculum management system with superior ease of integration and user experience. Discover the advanced solution that's elevating student success worldwide.

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