aia Organizes Graduate Recruitment Event

March 18

Graduate Recruitment Event

In the biggest event organised by aia, Stuart Hatchett, Business Development Manager and Darren Harris, Head of Graduate Solutions, brought together a host of eminent speakers to discuss the uncertain future of graduate recruitment. Peter Whitehead, Recruitment Editor of the Financial Times (FT); Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK; and Susan Nash, Vice President of the National Union of Students (NUS) all gave robust views of the impact of the Browne Report and the increase in tuition fees. Fifty representatives of various industries – ranging from Jaguar Land Rover to JP Morgan and Tesco, Rolls Royce to McDonald’s and UBS – converged at the FT’s offices to gain an insight into the possible effect on candidate quality, recruitment process and future best practice. Some of the questions posed were: How does the new university funding legislation affect the future of graduate recruitment? How are universities reacting to university funding changes? Will a new elite band of universities emerge? Will more students turn to study and employment abroad – or choose to study closer to home? Is the government forcing young people into debt? After opening the event with an acknowledgement that the legislation would have a significant impact on graduate recruitment, a panel of speakers representing economic, university, recruiter and students’ perspectives, went on to explain how they see the changes.

Carl Gilleard, AGR Chief Executive, set the scene by giving a snapshot of recent headlines, including ‘sponsored degrees’, record numbers of student applications, students applying abroad, the rising number of unemployed graduates and government cuts. He then explained why social mobility was a high priority for an industry undergoing a sea change.

Peter Whitehead, Recruitment Editor of the Financial Times, was keen to highlight how times had changed. In 1960, 50,000 university applications were made for 20,000 places; in 2009, there were 750,000 applications for half-a-million places. These statistics clearly demonstrate the success of government policy in getting more young people to university but, conversely, an 18% graduate unemployment rate highlights a major failure. With regard to increasing tuition fees, Whitehead raised concerns about students taking on unmanageable debt. He also felt Lord Browne’s report had been lazy – lacking proposals for repayments or varying course lengths to improve the situation for students.

While legislation changes will have a major impact on the future of universities across the UK, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, explained that uncertainty was still prevalent. She reflected on the current state of play: details of annual fees were still to be published by all universities; students won’t pay any upfront fees; part-time students now have access to funding; grants for underprivileged students would continue. However, the impact of new charges on social mobility and those from poorer backgrounds remains uncertain.

Dandridge also elaborated on the uncertainties of student choice in this new era. Would a student choose to study a certain degree based on financial gain or simply choose a course based on cost?

Susan Nash, Vice President of the NUS, was concerned that the government’s new legislation was based on the premise that the majority of students follow the same route – without considering those from different socio-economic backgrounds. She was convinced that costs would be a major decision factor. Those who do attend university are likely to look for a significant return on their investment – most notably a job at the end of it. As students look for guaranteed returns, this will inevitably lead to courses and institutions cutting back or closing. She also expressed NUS concerns about the ongoing exploitation of internships, as unemployed students work unpaid to boost their CV with no guarantee of employment. And, with so many unemployed students, companies can exploit this supply indefinitely. While keen to point out that the NUS accepts that students should contribute toward their education, she highlighted the fact that the government had ignored important factors before raising fees.

The event was closed with the conclusion that uncertainty still reigns in the graduate marketplace and the impact on recruiters will be a moveable feast. With this in mind, an event to discuss the changes as they unfold will be held at a future date.

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