This project drew on qualitative data (generated via semi-structured interviews) and quantitative data (drawn from existing institutional administrative data). Twelve semi-structured interviews were undertaken in total. Eight interviews were undertaken with students who had articulated from the DipHE Business at City of Glasgow College into third year at SBS, just before their graduation in summer 2017. Of these eight students, six were graduating with honours (2015 entrants) and two with an ordinary degree (2016 entrants). Four further interviews were undertaken with other key stakeholders i.e., a college representative, two SBS staff representatives and a Careers Service representative.
It was apparent that there is a great deal of work being undertaken by college and university staff to support direct entry students, albeit much of this work relies on informal arrangements. Institutional data on direct entrants is not easily extrapolated from data on the general student population, but reveals that a significant minority of direct third year entrants are exiting with an ordinary degree. Whilst the proportion of students in this category varies from year to year, for 2016 DipHE student entrants, for example, just under half were not eligible to progress to honours. That students are exiting with an ordinary degree has clear implications in terms of their graduate career prospects. A ‘good’ honours degree is a pre-requisite for graduate training schemes:
‘The pass degree affects them straight away because they’re ineligible for any of the graduate training schemes because they all require a 2:1 honours degree. So I mean most people see university as an entry into big global companies, they immediately don’t have that if they leave with a pass degree’ (careers service)
Furthermore, exiting with an ordinary degree restricts opportunities for post-graduate studies. Students are often ineligible for honours because they have not met the threshold overall mark in third year. As one student who wanted to progress to honours stated, ‘I didn’t get a high enough scoring’. However, there are some adjustment and related support issues for students, and thus their third year marks tended to be lower than they anticipated. For students who do meet the threshold, nevertheless, their marks seem to improve from third to fourth year - as these quotes from students graduating with honours helps illustrate:
‘In third year I got like 47, 49, 54, 56 and 57. In like this year I got 71, 67, 66 and 58’
‘I did really well in college compared to when I started at uni. But it slowly got better in uni as I spoke to lecturers and stuff and they helped me a wee bit more’
Referencing issues in particular was a recurring theme:
‘We never learned referencing that well [at college] … I got like 40 per cent in my first essay … And she said if I’d done my referencing I would have been in the 50s at least. So that was something that I had to then fight back to try and get into the following year’
Nevertheless, the interview data suggests that students are not making use of the range of available related support services, and specific enhanced services for direct third year entrants. Students, more generally, seem to be playing ‘catch-up’ not only in terms of developing their study-related skills but navigating their way through the new environment, systems and processes. Playing ‘catch-up’ extended to exploiting employability enhancing opportunities through, for instance, undertaking internships and/or participating in extra-curricular activities. At the same time, the compulsory MPD3 pathway clearly goes some way to address employability gaps:
‘[my internship] it was the MDP, it was an internship and I just kept that going … It was unpaid but at the end they did give me money once I’d handed in the report, they helped me out, they gave me like loads of things to help me and she’s my first reference I’ll go to, which is good ... I though the MDP class was really helpful for that kind of thing, helping you with your career skills and stuff like that’
‘MDP, that was a really good way of just getting out and being able to do something productive’
Yet there was a clear sense that the majority of students had not seriously considered their transition beyond university. Although one student had set up their own company and another secured a graduate traineeship with a global employer, most students had left their graduate job search late or not started yet:
‘I’ve been trying to avoid the thought … I think I will apply for grad schemes as well because I totally missed the cut off. Like you were supposed to apply for them in like November or December so I think I’m going to start applying for all that sort of stuff the now’
‘I’ve still not written my CV yet but I need to start getting them out now … I think I would quite like something to do with marketing but I don’t know. I would kind of like to work in an office I guess, well I wouldn’t actually but like out of job wise I think an office would probably be like a nine till five because I don’t want a job with shifts - I don’t think anyway’
There was also very little evidence of social integration outwith their articulating peers, thus potentially limiting the expansion of employability-enhancing networks.
Initial recommendations are as follows:
Our initial recommendations based on the project findings will be ‘road tested’ with senior SBS stakeholders.
Exiting with and ordinary degree and leaving graduate job search late seems to hinder graduates’ career prospects.
The student intern conducted and transcribed the interviews.