Graduate employability

In a time of rising unemployment, there has been much talk about what graduates need in order to get a (good) job, and what universities can do to help them. I leave aside the obvious impossibility of the task we are charged with, that is, getting more people into jobs, when the jobs simply don’t exist.

Talking to employers, it is clear that what they chiefly expect from graduates are an ability and willingness to learn, and flexibility. The actual topic of the degree is in most cases largely irrelevant, but a `difficult’ subject,¬† like mathematics, is generally preferred.

Unfortunately, pressures on universities from outside, and therefore pressures on academics from university managers, tend to push in the opposite direction from the real interests of the students. Directives to provide detailed printed lecture notes, model solutions to all exercises, sample exams, etc etc all militate against our aim to teach students how to learn.

If we bow to the pressure to spoon-feed our students in this way, we let both them and society down. We may improve some largely meaningless statistics, and thereby our position in league tables, by so doing, but we will produce graduates who cannot think for themsleves, who cannot deal with a new situation they have not seen before, and who therefore cannot get the job they want, and think they deserve.

So, a plea to university managers: please stop interfering in things you don’t understand, like how to teach mathematics, and let us, the professionals, get on with the job the way we know works best.

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One Response to “Graduate employability”

  1. Gerry Leversha Says:

    We met in an Indian restaurant in Birmingham last night. Coincidentally it turns out that I actually reviewed your book on the Four Colour Theorem in “The Mathematical Gazette” when it appeared! (I can’t find the review online but it is quoted in the OUP advertisement for your book.)

    Small world, indeed!

    Gerru

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