New graduate employment figures show there’s more to uni choice than rankings

HESA employability figures

By Pamela Head,

Cambridge and Oxford students were hugely outperformed in securing jobs and in further employment last year, HESA employability figures have revealed.

The figures show the percentage of students in employment or further study after graduating from university and are a good indication of how a university is performing in the real world.

18 universities were ranked higher than Cambridge for employability, despite the University maintaining the top spot in all the major UK university rankings. Even more shocking is the fact that a whopping 71 universities ranked higher than Oxford, despite the University regularly featuring in the top two of league tables.

Seven notable institutions to gain over 95% in the HESA figures don’t even feature in the Complete University Guide rankings, suggesting that university rankings are not a wholly reliable source when judging your prospects of employment after university.

So what do some of these notable universities say is the secret to their overwhelming success in the employability market?

Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal of Robert Gordon University said: "Robert Gordon University aims to transform lives, and as part of that aim seeks to give all students the knowledge, skills and experience that prepare them for employment. 

“The university also maintains close contacts with employers so that they can advise what they require from our graduates.

“We work closely with employers at all stages of the student journey, from course development and accreditation to providing scholarships and work-based placements and experiences. In this way we produce graduates that employers want."

University of Derby senior staff said a concentration on real world learning and providing degree courses that answered employers' needs and students' aspirations was behind the success.

Professor Pamela Gillies CBE, Glasgow Caledonian University Vice-Chancellor said: “GCU staff work closely with their partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors to co-create the content of the courses offered by the University. 

“Many of these are accredited by professional bodies and also include practical work placements and internships which enable students to practice what they have learned.

“This approach means that our graduates leave us with the right mix of skills and experience which enables them to develop their full potential in employment or further study.”

Below is a list of some of the biggest successes in the HESA employability figures, along with their respective positioning in the UK university rankings. The results may shock you…

Uni name The Times The Guardian Complete Uni Guide HESA employability (%)
Royal Academy of Music n/a n/a n/a 100.0
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance n/a n/a n/a 98.9
The School of Pharmacy n/a n/a n/a 98.2
Royal College of Music n/a n/a n/a 98.0
Robert Gordon University 51 55 53 97.7
Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln n/a n/a 116 97.0
The University of Buckingham 41 25 57 96.9
The Arts University College at Bournemouth n/a n/a 75 96.7
Courtauld Institute of Art n/a n/a n/a 96.7
St Mary's University College n/a 89 n/a 96.6
Glasgow Caledonian University 81 96 80 96.2
University of Derby 89 79 103 96.1
Stranmillis University College n/a n/a n/a 96.1
Harper Adams University College n/a n/a 89 96.0
The University of Northampton n/a 47 62 95.7
Cardiff Metropolitan University 78 105 96 95.0
University of Cambridge 2 1 1 94.9
Oxford University 1 2 2 92.0

The universities with the highest success rates from looking at these examples are those teaching and building upon skills already there, such as the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, the latter achieving the only 100% success rate on the list.

Two out of four universities in Northern Ireland also achieved over 96%; an incredibly impressive result.

The university to place highest after Cambridge and Oxford from the noted examples above was Robert Gordon, featuring at number 53 – well short of the top 20 or even the top 40.

It is not necessarily a surprise that institutions with such focussed vocations and usually just one or two courses on offer perform so well. The standout point from these results is that of the majority of the top institutes for employability, the ones best placed to help you get a job or enter into additional study once you’ve finished university, are the ones who don’t perform equally in the UK league tables. These figures show that league tables are not the be all and end all for your prospects after university.

No one would argue that Cambridge or Oxford are suddenly worthless places to study based on these figures. 94.9% and 92% is exceedingly good and the teaching and support at these universities is excellent. What these figures do show, however, is that there are other things to consider when choosing a university.