A degree Is Not Enough: The Universities That Succeed And Fail In ‘Selling’ Their Story On Future Employability | HE Research Snippet #29

HE Thinking | 23 Apr 2018


The growing importance of employability for prospective students picking a course or university has been big news for some time. Yet certain institutions have been unresponsive to this, while others have risen to the challenge with creativity and aplomb. At YouthSight, we believe universities can no-longer continue to ignore the evidence, nor can they afford to under-sell themselves when they, in fact, have a great story to tell. Yet, many commit both these costly errors.

In this HE Research Snippet, we share our data and insight behind the importance of future employability for prospective students. Read on to find out which universities do best and worst at communicating their employability stories and what you can start doing immediately to improve student perceptions.


Students now need assurances around employability. 

The demand from applicants for clarity around employability outcomes means there’s pressure on universities to better-evidence their achievements. It’s a rational response, given the high and rising cost of tuition fees, the fierce competition for graduate jobs, the Government’s promotion of alternative routes to employment such as the apprenticeship programs and regular stories in the media around graduates’ struggles in finding skilled work, and there not enough good jobs being available. While a degree alone may once have been a passport to a successful career, it is no longer the case.

Whether you look at it quantitatively or qualitatively, our data shows a clear trend in the growing importance of employability outcomes.


Importance of future employability2

Higher Expectations 2016/17, Question text: ‘How important were each of these factors in your decision about which university to choose?’ Only % strongly agreeing charted. Data from 2007/08 to 202016/17, Base size: over 12,000 per year. Copyright, YouthSight 2018


The chart above is taken from our tracking study, Undergraduate Success. The proportion of students citing future employability as being ‘very important’ in their university choice grew from 45% to 57% between 2007/08 and 2016/17. To remain competitive, HEI’s must, therefore, have – and critically – share the evidence about the future job prospects by individual course and by institution.

From the qualitative perspective, the Undergraduate Success dashboard includes tens of thousands of verbatim comments direct from students, like:

“Getting a job is difficult and having a degree [alone] won’t get you a job. That’s why I looked for universities that offered a good chance of getting employed afterwards due to them being associated with companies nearby.”

Undergraduate Success 2016/17, question text: ‘If there was ONE key reason you chose your current university over your other choices, what was it?’, 2016, Student at University of Warwick. 


The dashboard can show this evidence in trend form, as well as being filterable and comparable at the most granular of levels.  


Which HEIs do best at promoting their employability ‘story’?

In a previous snippet, we discovered that many universities do a poor job in conveying the story around their students’ employability. Too many students have a bleak outlook about their course or university, when, in fact, their institution’s employability figures are strong. In other words, universities are too frequently failing to sell their future job prospects to their own students and applicants.

How can HEIs turn this around?  Well, as any good geographer will tell you, the best way to chart out a new route is to start by having a clear idea of where you currently are on the map (and where you want to go)! Undergraduate Success provides this information in detail, offering a picture of your institution, your competitors institutions and across the whole sector.It makes transparent almost everything about the competitive world of undergraduate attraction and conversion.

So which universities do best? If you want a sneak peek of the institutions which excel, the table below shares some great examples worth celebrating. If you work at one of these HEIs and you’ve been trying to improve the way you tell the story around your university’s employability, we’d like to say well done!


  Good employability overall Good placement opportunities  Strong links with industry  Good graduate employment statistics 


University of Cambridge


University of Bath 


London School of Economics and Political Science  


University of Cambridge

Imperial College of Science, Technology & Medicine 



Imperial College of Science, Technology & Medicine 


London School of Economics and Political Science   


University of Bath  


London School of Economics and Political Science  



London School of Economics and Political Science 

University of Oxford


Aston University 


Glasgow Caledonian University


University of Oxford 

Do you strongly agree that your university has... (% strongly agree), YouthSight Higher Expectations, 2016/17, base size: over 12,000 undergraduates, copyright YouthSight 2018 .


Didn't make it into the top 3? To find out how prospective students perceive your university's employability, get in touch. 

Let's Talk


Other examples of good practice

HEIs should celebrate and promote the employability related accolades they may receive, across their prospectuses or online, and showcase the initiatives they implement to improve the future job prospects of their students. LSE, for example, heavily promotes its internships with UK Parliament and Tata. Meanwhile, the University of Bath has a dedicated placements team with links to HSBC and CERN. It is therefore no wonder that both universities also do well in our rankings on employability factors

Undergraduate Success subscribers can see how every institution in the UK ranks on these – and scores of other factors, across 10 years of trending back-data.

Do you know to know where your institution stand? Request a demo today!


How can you do better?

  • Learn about your competitive strengths and weaknesses in communicating your employability story.
  • Track how your performance has changed over the past five to ten years.
  • Track which subject areas do best, which do worst and among which students? Which universities ‘like you’ excel, which universities fail?
  • Research and learn from the actions of the best, avoid the actions of the worst.
  • Continue to monitor as you implement changes. Have your changes brought the results you wanted?
  • Talk to the HE research team at YouthSight. We've worked with over 100 UK universities and we’re here to help and supply all of the data you need in this pursuit. Including twelve years of back-data and deep insight at UG and PG levels

 What are your competitive strengths and weaknesses in communicating your employability story?

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