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Employability rankings show university ‘brand’ trumps reputation

Universities are ranked not on their academics or research output but by the employability of the degrees they award their graduates, in the fifth Global Employability University Rankings released for the first time by Times Higher Education.

École Normale Supérieure in Paris. France, with10 universities, fares much better than other European countries, propped up by the famous Grandes	 Écoles which do well on employability according to Emerging. Photo: David Monniaux.École Normale Supérieure in Paris. France, with10 universities, fares much better than other European countries, propped up by the famous Grandes Écoles which do well on employability according to Emerging. Photo: David Monniaux.

Recruiters said they were attracted to university brands where they had good past experience with graduates

The table of 500 universities is based on a survey of 4,600 corporate recruiters from 21 countries designed by French human resources consultancy, Emerging, and carried out by German research firm Trendence. Respondents were asked what they look for in new employees and which universities they think produce the best graduates.

The usual suspects fill out the US-dominated top 10 starting with Harvard who bumped University of Cambridge out of the number one spot this year to number two. University of Oxford follows in third place, up from fourth last year.

“Almost a half of surveyed recruiters said they have hired someone based on a qualification they acquired via a MOOC”

Cal Tech is up a place to fourth while Yale University, third last year, comes in fifth place.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (6th), Stanford University (7th) Columbia University (8th) and Princeton University (9th) all take their place in the top 10 with the University of Toronto making an appearance at number 10.

But beyond the top tier, ranked institutions begin to look less familiar: Indian Institute of Science (20th) Germany’s Technische Universität München (11th) and France’s École Normale Supérieure  (13th).

The presence of new names placed so high on global rankings could best be explained by what recruiters say they look for when it comes to universities they trust: expertise in one field of competence and past experiences with graduates.

Moreover, respondents placed a candidate’s specific skills and professional experience above area of degree specialisation and the university where they graduated, in the hiring process.

And almost a half of surveyed recruiters said they have hired someone based on a qualification they acquired via a MOOC.

Laurent Dupasquier, partner at Emerging, says the results point to a globalisation of the higher education market where students of any nationality choose to apply to universities with strong brands rather than what country they are in.

“You have a global market and you select schools based on if their brand will give you high chances of employability,” he told The PIE News. “Young students are looking for universities that are going to provide them with the best return on their investment.”

Recruiters said they were attracted to university brands where they had good past experience with graduates, that had international exposure and expertise in one field of competence.

Dupasquier credited English’s status as the global lingua franca and digitalisation of higher education for the advancement of universities as brands.

“When we ask recruiters if foreign language is important they say no but then when we ask them isn’t English important? They say English is not a foreign language. Even when we’re talking to Brazilian or Turkish recruiters,” Dupasquier said.

Digitalisation, through offerings like MOOCs, contribute to institutions’ brand power as students use those qualifications to boost employability either in lieu of degrees or as professional development Dupasquier said.

“You have a global market and you select schools based on if their brand will give you high chances of employability”

“If MOOCs are going to be something that is in one way not unique but a compliment of higher education and getting your higher education then the question of the brand is absolutely essential,” Dupasquier asserted. “You’re buying the brand and recruiters are buying the brand.”

The rankings are dominated by 39 US institutions while the UK is second most present with 12 universities followed by France (10), Switzerland (7) the Netherlands (5) and Sweden (4).

For the most part, employers were satisfied with the higher education systems in their own countries, rating them on average 6.8 out of 10, with the exception of Japanese employers who on average rate the system 5.7.

The initial list of universities was produced from on online survey taken in April to August this year by 2,200 recruiters at companies covering all major business sectors in 21 countries including the US, Brazil, South Korea, Singapore, the UK and Russia.

A second survey of 2,400 managing directors of international companies or subsidiaries with over 1,000 employees then scored the list to produce the final 500 universities.

This is the first time the study has been produced with THE, previously Emerging and Tendence published the results with The New York Times.

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