Shadbolt and Wakeham

Both the Shadbolt and Wakeham reports on CS and STEM Graduate Employability have now been published and, as predicted, they largely don’t say what the government was hoping they would.

Both reports point to the need to improve the quality of the data available, greater cooperation between all parties and a closer look at programme accreditation.  Nowhere is to be found the university-bashing the reports’ commissioners probably expected.  The full text for each report is available from the following links:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/518575/ind-16-5-shadbolt-review-computer-science-graduate-employability.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/518582/ind-16-6-wakeham-review-stem-graduate-employability.pdf

The 91-page report by Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt makes ten recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1 – Improving the data Data on the supply of and demand for Computer Sciences graduates should be timely/up to date, accessible and comprehensive. The Council of Professors and Heads of Computing (CPHC), Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), and Tech Partnership should devise a programme of work to improve the quality, richness and granularity, availability and accessibility of data. This should start by working with HESA to inform their Data Futures review and with Government on the future publication of linked educational and employment record datasets. This will help HE providers, employers, students, graduates and policy makers to better understand the graduate employment landscape and how this meets both the requirements of industry and an increasingly technology-driven economy now and in the future.
  • Recommendation 2 – Extending and promoting work experience All Computer Sciences students should have opportunities to benefit from the skills and experience that are gained through formal sandwich year placements. This might be through increased provision of different types of work placement or finding ways to transfer the benefits of work placements directly to degree programmes. HE providers and employers should be creative and ambitious in developing mechanisms and routes for students to gain work experience, including summer internships and shorter placements. University Industry Advisory Boards should facilitate genuine engagement between HE and industry to ensure that these opportunities are relevant and provide real-world examples.  The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), CPHC and National Union of Students (NUS) should work together to investigate the barriers (perceived or actual) that different groups of Computer Sciences students face in accessing and undertaking work experience that is unpaid or voluntary.
  • Recommendation 3 – Ensuring graduates’ foundational knowledge and their ability to adapt Computer Sciences course provision should recognise the fast pace of change in technology and seek to equip students with the ability to learn and upskill both throughout their programme, but also during their professional careers. However, HE providers, whether accredited or not, must also ensure that degree programmes continue to provide students with the core foundational knowledge and principles of computer science. This core should reference the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM)
  • Recommendation 4 – Improving graduates’ softer and work readiness skills HE providers and employers should consider how new models of provision, such as degree apprenticeships, may provide opportunities for students to develop work readiness skills alongside their academic studies. Employers should work with HE providers to support them in incorporating these opportunities into degree programmes. Employers should also recognise their role in providing training to graduates to enable them to develop professionally and to adapt their skills to the specific needs of a particular employer or industry. Tech Partnership, the British Computer Society (BCS) and Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET) should work with employers and HE providers to accredit modules that provide students with both technical and soft skills and to ensure they are valued by students.
  • Recommendation 5 – Careers advice and visibility of graduate opportunities The AGR and AGCAS should work with CPHC and Tech Partnership to develop a targeted campaign to provide Computer Sciences students with more specific detail on the types of roles and industries that require their skillsets. This should seek to identify role models from alumni and local industry contacts. This should be disseminated and led locally by careers services who should provide support to students in articulating their skills to potential employers. BCS and IET should work with AGR and AGCAS to develop a model for accrediting careers advice provision within Computer Sciences programmes.
  • Recommendation 6 – Developing a clearer view of the requirements of start-up technology companies Start-up companies should be recognised as a distinct element of the employer landscape. The skills needs of start-ups should be specifically identified, and the role that start-up can play in providing work experience opportunities for students and inputting to Computer Sciences degree courses should be fully explored.  Tech City UK, the Open Data Institute, the Tech Partnership and NESTA should work together to act as a voice for start-up companies to enable them to interact effectively with HE providers, their students and graduates. This should reflect activity at the local, cluster level and input to enhanced data collection and analysis, outlined in Recommendation 1, to better understand the demands of start-ups.
  • Recommendation 7 – Developing a better understanding of, and supporting, SME requirements Working through Tech Partnership and with Tech City UK, SMEs should be supported to ensure that their requirements for Computer Sciences graduate skills are captured and adequately reflected. In particular, further work is needed to support SMEs in providing work placements to Computer Sciences graduates.
  • Recommendation 8 – Horizon scanning for future demand for skills HE providers, employers, accrediting and professional bodies should work together to horizon-scan for future skills requirements of Computer Sciences graduates. The CPHC, HEFCE, Tech Partnership, NESTA, BCS and the IET should work with, and build on, existing fora to identify future skills needs. The Group should use enhanced data outlined in Recommendation 1 and work together to develop a collaborative model with a clear remit and reporting line. The Group should deliver an annual report on the skills needs of Computer Sciences graduates, delivered through an annual summit/conference on Future Skills and with wider dissemination through local careers services.  (Watch this space on this particiular recommendation!)
  • Recommendation 9 – Academic accreditation of degree courses BCS, IET and Tech Partnership should ensure that existing systems of degree course accreditation are flexible, agile, and enable HE providers to respond to changing demand and emerging technological trends and developments. Accreditation of courses should be focussed on outputs. Accrediting bodies should work to increase awareness and value of accreditation so that it is valued by HE providers, students and employers, and consider how their role can provide a forum for engagement between HE and employers.
  • Recommendation 10 – Engaging industry in accreditation Employers, through employer groups, such as Tech Partnership, should engage more consistently with HE providers and BCS & IET to ensure accreditation is effective and reflects current industry demand.

The 90-page report by Professor Sir William Wakeham makes seven recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1 – Biological Sciences Further targeted work is needed to explore in more detail the reasons for the relatively poor employment outcomes of Biological Sciences graduates and to set out solutions for improving these outcomes.
  • Recommendation 2 – Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences Further work is needed to unpick and explore the nature of, and reasons for, the relatively poor employment outcomes of graduates from Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences (EMES) degree programmes. Where clear problems are identified for particular disciplines within the EMES group, solutions should be proposed for improving outcomes.
  • Recommendation 3 – Agriculture, Animal Sciences and Food Sciences Further targeted work is needed to explore the current employment outcomes for graduates in these disciplines across the whole of the set of businesses in the agricultural-food chain. The existing data is not sufficiently detailed to allow certainty about the situation now and the pace of change in the industry is likely to place new pressures on both HE and the industry to match demand with the supply of appropriately skilled graduates. The study therefore needs to include consideration of the future as well as the past.
  • Recommendation 4 – Additional STEM disciplines of concern Further targeted work is needed to explore the graduate employment outcomes of Aerospace Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Engineering Design graduates. Within all three disciplines the respective industry bodies, HE providers and professional bodies for those disciplines should work together to clarify the nature of their graduate employment outcomes and decide whether specific measures are required to address the concerns we have identified.
  • Recommendation 5 – Increased engagement between industry and HE providers Employers and HE providers should work more closely together in order to improve graduate employment outcomes. In particular, they should consider addressing the following areas: Improving the opportunities for students to take up work experience and to maintain its quality; Embedding the development of soft skills into degree courses and improving work readiness; Better matching degree courses to employer demand for skills; Improving STEM careers advice and awareness of job opportunities for graduates and students, as well as even earlier in the education pipeline
  • Recommendation 6 – Improvements to data on graduate employment outcomes There are opportunities to enhance the richness, quality and consistency of data available on STEM graduate employment outcomes. Ideally it should be possible for analysis of student flows from particular HE disciplines into specific sectors of employment to better recognise the type of degree and reflect upon relevant features of their degree programme. Where appropriate this should align with HESA’s existing work to review graduate destinations and outcomes data. It should also extend beyond student data collections with the ambition that information collected from employers and their representative bodies can be available for scrutiny in an accessible and comparable form.
  • Recommendation 7 – Accreditation Good practice from existing, well-established systems of degree course accreditation should be highlighted and disseminated where it may be of interest to those STEM disciplines without an accreditation framework or where an accreditation framework is emerging. Potentially the Science Council should explore a future role in developing and overseeing a unified accreditation framework for the science disciplines that draws upon the experience of both the Engineering Council and those science disciplines where there are already well-established accreditation systems.
All very sensible but definitely not what a government, intent on beating the university sector into submission, wanted to hear!

About Vic Grout

Professor of Computing Futures at Wrexham Glyndwr University, Wales, UK. View all posts by Vic Grout

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