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“[UK] graduates don’t go in straight lines and we don’t have a slavish tie between degree studied and the job you go into.”

I had the privilege of being involved in the consultation on the benchmark statement for English degrees in the UK last week. Basically this is the single source document that tells academics, students and employers what should be in an English degree, and the type of graduates it produces. There is one of these for most subject groups.

One part of the discussion was about what work English graduates go into. As a panel of employers and graduate recruiters we praised the flexibility and variety of roles that English graduates can take.

It touched on what I think is an important strength of UK HE, namely the fact that graduates don’t go in straight lines and we don’t have a slavish tie between degree studied and job you go into.

This sits in contrast to the US, where there is a far greater directness between the Major you study and the job you go on to do.

For example, having spoken to the UK and then North American graduate recruitment heads for a big 4 firm they offered quite a contrast. In the US they recruit about 75-80% finance majors, whereas in the UK the same firm hires around 40% from business/finance degrees, and will happily hire people with a fine art degree.

This ‘wiggly line’ approach to progression to employment is threatened though. I have the privilege of attending quite a few local skills boards, and often hear a rhetoric that states ‘we need more people to study business’, under an assumption they will somehow be more work ready and productive. This often ignores the fact that various arts subjects (and many of the oft-criticised subjects) regularly outperform business degrees when it comes to graduate employment salaries and jobs.

Fortunately most of the large graduate recruiters are degree subject agnostic, and in SME programmes such as RISE, we also see more than 60% of the vacancies are open to any degree! Something we strongly encourage. Where there are specific degrees requested it tends to just be in highly technical subjects (I.e. You wouldn’t want a music graduate appointed as a bridge- building engineer, certainly not this music graduate).

I think that we should celebrate this variety, as I believe it provides a dynamic and vibrant workforce, with a wide range of skills and perspectives. I also think that holding on to this will also provide one form of protection for valuable and under-threat humanities subjects.

This wiggly line thing does make it more complex to create benchmark statements, and raises the importance of good careers guidance, but we should, embrace it, cherish it. This means we need to spend more time convincing employers to stay with this approach, and producing graduates who thrive in ambiguity, as these are things that will future proof people, businesses and the economy.

Martin Edmondson is the CEO of Gradcore. You can tweet Martin your thoughts or comment below. To find out about how Gradcore works to connect employers, universities and graduates  get in touch here.

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