This article will explore some of the most important issues in UK Higher Education as the new fees regime comes into place in 2012. It will ask what these changes will mean for academic jobseekers. This article will explore the following themes:
- Fluctuations in admissions patterns
- The importance of employability
- How many contact hours will students expect?
Predictions vary as to whether student numbers will radically decrease in 2012 because of the changes in the way education is paid for. From 2012 onwards, the burden of most of the cost will fall on the student themselves, to be paid in the form of loans, repayable once he or she is working. However, the size of these loans (up to £9000 per year of study) might put off some students from poorer backgrounds, or might encourage the strongest students to consider going abroad. Alternatives such as apprenticeships and other vocational training might also seem more appealing.
Universities are bracing themselves for up to a 20% drop in numbers. What does this mean for academic jobseekers? Surely with fewer students, fewer staff will be needed? In some cases universities will stop hiring until the student numbers have stabilised, but other departments recognise the increasing importance of having good teachers on their staff and will hire more people. For example, students often complain about being taught by postgraduates. So in order to please their ‘customers’ some universities might prefer to hire academic staff to boost their teaching reputation rather than rely on postgraduates. Others think that the projected drop in numbers is inaccurate and that student numbers will remain buoyant.
For the jobseeker, first and foremost, it is important to be aware of the issue and the debates surrounding it. At interview you want to be able to talk coherently and confidently about how the potential problems could be solved.
Students will want to know that their degree will give them a decent chance of finding a good job when they leave. If you can show as an interview candidate that you have considered this issue and have some ideas about how to improve employability statistics for your department, then you will impress your potential employers.
Employability can be addressed by closer liaison with the careers service, such as putting on events to guide students towards their chosen careers. Another option is to offer work placement and work experience activities, which will look great on students’ CVs and will provide them with an opportunity to network with people in their chosen industries. Making connections with alumni who have gone on to a successful career and inviting those alumni to speak to current students about their experiences is another option. Offering ideas such as this will show potential employers that you have thoughtfully prepared and considered the current issues that affect Higher Education.
Another key issue will be the number of contact hours students are given on a particular degree programme. They might see more contact hours as better value for money. This is especially a concern in the arts and humanities subjects that have traditionally had low contact hours and expected students to undertake independent learning outside the classroom. This model could change under the new fees regime.
As a jobseeker, you need to show that you are aware of the issue of student satisfaction as a whole and that you have thought of ways that you - as a staff member - can improve the student experience while not compromising the working life of academic staff. After all, being an active researcher and expert in your field impresses students. So, if you no longer have time to do your research and writing, this might be counterproductive in the long run.