People looking to commence university studies next year would do well to check out The Good Universities Guide 2018. We’ve already laid out the main stats. But, to better understand the big data picture, we spoke to Ross White, head of product at the Guide’s publisher, Good Education Group.
CR: What, in your opinion, were the Guide’s standout findings?
RW: Probably, at an overall level, just how universally strong and positive the measures of student experience were across all universities. There’s six basic metrics which measure student experience. When you take into account the fact that students themselves come in all different shapes and sizes, and those measures are applied across 21 really diverse fields of study, everything from business, through to creative arts, to engineering, the fact that you can still manage to get a majority of students being satisfied with teaching quality and learner engagement and learning resources is pretty impressive.
The other thing that we found was that despite the really positive measures of student experience, we found quite a bit of bounce in what students experience post-graduation. So these graduate employment rates and median graduate salaries weren’t as universally strong across all fields and all universities as the measures of student experience were.
What did you make of the fact that smaller and regional universities did quite well in a number of fields, but have low prestige in terms of international rankings?
I think prestige is a bit of a loose term, but I think from our point of view it’s a really good insight into how they’re probably serving their local market really well, and it’s a good insight into perhaps where tertiary qualified students are in demand at the moment. We saw that Charles Sturt University’s got the highest graduate employment rate in the country, and when you look across all their fields of study, it’s not specific to any one cohort of graduates, say, just the engineering graduates. Across all the fields, they’re really strong.
That, to us, indicates that Charles Sturt is clearly doing something right in terms of how they’re preparing their grads for the employment market, but possibly that graduates in the areas that Charles Sturt University is serving, country New South Wales, are obviously in demand at the moment. So there’s a lot of opportunities there. If you turn that on its head and look at how metro graduates are competing in metropolitan employment markets, the story isn’t quite so rosy.
I think there’s a lot to be said for prospective students looking at all their options. Maybe considering travelling, and looking at, like you say, some of the universities that don’t have the brand caché.
You also found that there were differences between fields of study. Can you outline some of these?
There’s a few that we find year on year maybe suffer a little bit, and we should probably put the employment rates within context. These are specifically full-time graduate employment rates, and they’re generated from a survey of graduates who are only three or four months out of university, so it’s a really recent snapshot of graduates that are just hot out of university. You can probably estimate that over time those graduate employment rates are going to change. But as far as this snapshot is concerned, you see creative arts graduates probably suffering the most in the full-time graduate employment market. Their overall graduate employment rate was 49.3 per cent, which was the lowest of all fields of study.
Interestingly, science and mathematics graduates also seem to be suffering a little bit at the moment as well. Their graduate employment rate was 54.5 per cent, so it’s also one of the lowest graduate employment rates. That’s despite the fact that there seems to be a bit of hype, and a bit of intensity around science and technology skills and a requirement for those sorts of skills broadly in the economy at the moment.
I know that you rate individual factors, and don’t determine an overall top university, but was there anything to suggest that there was one, or a few, universities that seem to excel across many different factors?
We did find that Bond University and the University of Notre Dame are both really very strong across all six measures of student experience. Bond pretty much topped the charts across all six of those, but it’s worth bearing in mind that Bond’s a full-fee private university. There were a couple of public universities that were also really strong in the student experience measures. The University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, did really well on all six measures of student experience as well. It’s worth pointing out that their cohort is mostly non-traditional students, typically mature age students, and students who are studying under a combination of part-time and off-campus study modes.
The Guide has been published for 25 years. What sort of trends have emerged over that period?
If we take a really recent snapshot, we can say that regional universities, the past few years at least, are doing really well on graduate employment measures. As I mentioned before, that’s probably a combination of factors, that are probably concerned with their local economies that they’re serving, but also how they’re delivering their courses as well. So something’s working for the regionals, because they’re really dominating full-time employment rates, and they’re doing pretty well in median graduate salaries as well. We’ve seen that trend over a number of years now.
Another trend that we’ve seen, probably around Bond University, Notre Dame University, University of Wollongong and University of New England to name a few, is a strong performance on student experience measures. Year after year, they’ve pretty much topped the charts.
I noticed that there was a general finding that students were satisfied, but they weren’t really being served that well by the job market. Were these job rates worse than usual?
They’re pretty consistent with previous years. Perhaps where we’re starting to see a little bit of a shift was with the Western Australian universities. In previous years they’ve been quite strong on graduate employment outcomes. This year we’ve found they’re below the national average now for graduate employment rates.
So we’re speculating that because the resource boom is starting to slow down a little bit, particularly engineering graduates probably aren’t enjoying the same rates of employment that they have in the past, and that’s starting to bear itself out in graduate employment rates for grads from universities in Western Australia.
On the flipside, we’ve also seen health services grads from the same universities enjoying quite strong graduates employment rates. Whereas before it’s been a resource driven employment market for all graduates in WA, now it seems to be more of a health services employment market.
You publish the Guide to give an independent insight into the Australian university landscape. How much do people rely on the guide, and how much do you think they should rely on the guide in deciding where to study?
The Guide is one of a kind. It’s a Bible for career advisers. What makes it unique is that we’re not measuring on any one particular metric, or we’re not combining multiple metrics into one measure. The virtue of not doing it is that it enables prospective students to tease out the qualities that they’re really looking for in a university, and research them by individual field of study. If a prospective student wants to study engineering for example, and they’re really interested in graduate employment rates, they can research through the guide and quite easily find institutions that are delivering specifically really strong graduate employment rates for engineers.
This interview originally appeared on Campus Review – Good Universities Guide results: explained
Ross White is Head of Data and Analytics for Good Education Group and heads up the production team for The Good Universities Guide. Ross specialises in market insight within the education sector and has been involved in the evolution of the The Good Universities Guide publication for over 10 years. Learn more about Ross.