Measuring the extent to which subjects are vocational could help inform the choices of prospective students. It’s an area of work that the Office for Students will continue to build on.
The Office for Students is concerned with ensuring that prospective students have the best possible information available to them when choosing their university degree. Part of this is an awareness of the typical career pathways from the subject area being considered.
HEFCE recently created a measure of the extent to which subjects are vocational. This highlights subjects from which graduates enter very broad or very narrow sets of highly-skilled occupations. It’s an area of work that we, at the Office for Students, will continue to build on in the coming months.
The extent to which a subject is vocational was determined by examining how directly it leads to specific occupations. For example, a high proportion of graduates from nursing degrees will find employment as nurses. For some subjects, these pathways are quite clear; for others, they are less so. Within university education, 10 per cent of higher education subjects were highly vocational, with a further 10 per cent found to be fairly vocational.
This measure was created by calculating the proportion of full-time first degree graduates from a subject area who are employed in the three most common highly-skilled occupations in that subject area. From this, each subject has been given a value on the occupation-subject concentration ratio (OSCR), which ranges from 0 to 1. The higher the OSCR, the more vocational the subject.
Clearly, there are some subjects which, by their nature, will be more vocational than others, typically leading to a narrow set of career pathways. Others will always lead to a diversity of occupations. But do subjects meet our expectations of how vocational they typically are? The answer to this question matters because if prospective students make their subject choice based on the fact it will lead to a specific occupation, or a diversity of occupations, then they need to know if that is the likely outcome. Using OSCR in combination with the highly-skilled employment rates allows us to make a judgement of not only how likely graduates from a particular subject area are to be in highly-skilled employment, but how wide-ranging the early career occupations might be.
For example, a student who wants to become an architect would need to study an architecture degree. They can see from the current information available that over three-quarters of architecture graduates are in highly skilled employment six months after graduation – it’s looking good so far. Then the OSCR is considered. Architecture has an OSCR of 0.674, putting it well above the majority of subjects and suggesting it is quite a vocational subject. Whilst this isn’t a guarantee that they will walk straight into a job as an architect, it is a good indication that they will find work in occupations commonly undertaken by architecture graduates.
Now imagine that the prospective student went ahead and studied that architecture degree. Six months after graduation they find themselves working as an architect and they stop to consider whether they made the right choice in attending university. They ask themselves if they think their experience was worthwhile, whether they’d received value for money from their studies. What are they likely to be thinking?
Or, perhaps, they don’t land that dream job right away, but they knew from the start that nearly 33 per cent of architecture graduates are working outside the three most common occupations for architecture graduates. Will the fact that there wasn’t an expectation that their degree would definitely lead them straight into their chosen occupation make a difference to how they feel about that outcome?
Of course, we recognise that the university experience is about much more than just the occupation you are employed in six months after graduation. That’s why we consider other factors, such as student satisfaction and degree classification in processes like the TEF. But since a major selling point of university is that it is a way to improve your employment prospects, the first job a graduate takes is going to have a big impact on how they reflect on their higher education experience.
As the Office for Students, we want to ensure that ‘every student has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers’ – making sure that prospective students have realistic expectations of their future outcomes is not a bad place to start.