By Richard Adams | 09 February 2018
Traditionalists may complain about universities offering degrees in landscape gardening or public relations – but new research shows they are subjects with a great record for securing highly skilled jobs for the graduates who study them.
The research from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) found that students on courses with strong vocational links were more likely to end up in well-paid, skilled jobs within six months of graduation. Medicine, dentistry and nursing topped the list of subjects with the strongest vocational links, with almost all graduates going on to get jobs in related professions.
But the findings – published for the first time in the UK – also show that there is no simple way of dividing university degrees into academic and vocational subjects, with even the most academic subjects having vocational links.
Some highly prized disciplines, such as electronics and genetics, had lower than average transmission rates from campus to workplace, while others, such as landscape design and nutrition, were a far more reliable route to employment.
In some subjects, such as maths, graduates were likely to find jobs easily enough, but not in sectors closely related to their degree subject.
Prof Madeleine Atkins, Hefce’s chief executive, hailed the experimental data as a valuable new source of information for prospective students thinking about their future careers. “It is really important that students have access to a range of information when choosing their degree courses. Being able to see how vocational a degree is will help students have realistic expectations of their likely career progression,” Atkins said.
The study suggests that students who want a clear route from their degree into a related career should choose a subject with a high “occupations-subject concentration ratio” (OSCR), a figure calculated by the Hefce researchers.
Those who are unsure what they want to do, or want to keep their options open, would be advised to choose courses with fewer vocational links to give them more flexibility.
“A lot of government reform is focused on improving technical and vocational education, but this conversation rarely acknowledges the role in higher education in supplying a skilled workforce to vocational occupations,” the research notes.
The vocational-academic divide also fails to explain how the most successful vocational subjects are also some of the most academically demanding, such as medicine and dentistry.
“This shows that higher education qualifications can be both highly vocational and highly academic, as these characteristics are not mutually exclusive,” the report states.
Overall the study found that just over a third of graduates start work in an industry or sector related to the subject they studied at university, earning £21,500 six months after starting work.
Courses with the strongest vocational links also paid graduates the most, with researchers finding that each 0.01 improvement in the ratio was equivalent to an extra £79 a year. Dentists earned among the highest salaries, at £31,800, with an OSCR of 0.99, followed by teachers, on £26,400.
More than two-thirds of those who studied landscape design went on to work in the sector, while a third of those who studied journalism managed to find jobs in the struggling industry.