Look after your graduates

I heard a snippet of Stephen Joyce on the radio this morning saying that the government may link funding of tertiary education to graduate employment – i.e. the amount of money given to The University of Waikato to support its teaching would be linked to the success of its graduates in securing employment. 

On the face of it, I think that’s perfectly reasonable. Of course, I have heard no details, and that is where the issues are likely to be. A government spends a huge fraction of its income on education, and it is utterly sensible (I would say with my tax-payer’s hat on ‘essential’ ) that it carefully considers what value it is getting from its expenditure. But I can think of a few issues here.

What would be meant by graduate employment? Would the proverbial job at McDonalds count as graduate employment? Does the job have to be closely aligned with the actual degree course undertaken? If so, how close? Who defines that? University and polytechnic courses can teach skills that aren’t tied to the actual academic material – our science graduates should be able to do things like write a coherent written report and give presentations – and those skills are useful in a great range of jobs, not just sciency ones.

All that remains to be defined. But one positive spin-off I can see for the universities is that it will force them to keep good track of their graduates. My two old universities (Cambridge and Bristol) send me frequent magazines and emails (in the case of Cambridge) letting me know what’s happening – and one reason is that happy graduates that still feel part of their former university have a habit of giving them money. And some graduates  will go on to earn rather large salaries (I wish), and become a useful source of income for their institution.  In fact, Cambridge is exceptionally skilled at asking for donations – I get at least one phone call a year from someone pursuing this point (in a very nice way) – even now that I am in New Zealand (though just once the caller didn’t register the time-zone difference … he didn’t get a happy graduate on the end of the phone at midnight).

More money from graduates means there is less reliance on government income, which means there is less for us lecturers  to fret about when ministers hint at changes to the funding system. I wait to see what will happen

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