By Sarah Cowan, Policy and Programmes Manager

Graduate wellbeing and the transition from education to employment were discussed in a series of workshops with NCUB members, based on the findings of Student Minds’ report Graduate Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace.

Student Minds are the UK’s premier student mental health charity, championing the wellbeing of university students across the UK by working with 120 institutions. Their report was grounded in a survey of 300 recent graduates and their experiences in managing mental wellbeing. Two areas explored in the report were the role of universities in preparing students, and what makes a good transition into work.

Similar themes emerged in NCUB roundtables, along with: at what point in a student’s transition or graduate career should they be deemed resilient; and what does a resilient graduate look like?

As we work to explore these themes with our university and business members, here are a few of the emerging thoughts.

What makes a successful transition, and whose job is it?

Wellbeing and resilience are not just welfare issues, but economic ones – work-related stress, depression or anxiety account for 50% of all working days lost due to ill health, which is an estimated annual shortfall of 15.4 million days. Should the onus lay on the business to ensure that its graduate hires are resilient and mentally well? Certainly, some of our business members think they have a responsibility to ensure this, and collectives such as the City Mental Health Alliance have demonstrated effort to collaborate, rather than compete, among companies dealing with large graduate intakes.

Should resilience be another attribute of a ‘work-ready graduate’, prepared by their higher education experience? Is this about work skills, a growth mindset and personal agility, and will these attributes soon be required in the same way as technical skills and knowledge?

The better the university service, the harder the transition?

One observation was the concept of over-support. We know student services are stretched, and that support for mental health is not easy to come by, yet companies reported an awareness that the graduates who struggled the most had previous access to support from 24/7 helplines and drop in sessions. Unique to a higher education setting, the loss of access to such services upon entering the workforce can be detrimental to the wellbeing of graduates. One suggestion was for university support to better align with the post-university world, although recognising there are also pressures on universities to do more to prevent serious incidents, making reduced support counter-intuitive.

Is it about the unknown?

The Student Minds report concluded that graduates on a defined graduate scheme identified as having more positive transition than those who were not. Despite their reputation as highly competitive and stressful environments, graduate schemes can provide defined structure, clear processes and vital peer support to temper the foray into the working world. In a similar vein, businesses at our roundtables relayed feedback from their own graduate intakes, who highlighted ‘the unknown’ as one of the greatest causes of stress. Business employers take different approaches to this, from apps preparing graduates for each stage of their training, including a checklist for the first weeks, to peer-support and mentoring schemes.

Unrealistic expectations of early graduate careers?

With such a strong focus on employment prospects and securing ‘graduate jobs’, is there a role to be played in managing expectations? Realistically, not everyone can, or will, reach senior positions, and the most recent ONS Graduate Labour Market report highlights that only 49% of graduates are working in defined graduate roles. As more students access higher education within rapid workplace transformations, today’s aspirations may not be easily achievable or available in the future.

What next?

To help develop mental health and wellbeing literacy, how can we enable conversations and appropriate cultures and provision of support to be developed? The National Centre welcomes the recent OfS call for projects in universities and colleges, working with partners such as the NHS and mental health charities, to find new ways of combating the rise in student mental health issues. The call addresses a need for strategic leadership in universities alongside priorities for developing an evidence base and collaborative working.

We will continue to work with Student Minds to identify some of these drivers of change and to share best practice, allowing universities and businesses to learn from one another to improve student wellbeing, increase graduate resilience, and streamline the transition from education to employment.


Published: 13 December 2018