What is it and who made it?
The GEURS ranking is now in its 11th edition. It is composed of a global survey of employers to ask not only who they regard as the best institutions to employ graduates from, but the skills and dimensions that they value when looking for new hires. This makes the survey more detailed than the similarly structured QS Employability Ranking.
The survey is conducted by the French higher education consultancy Emerging, who specialise in consultancy services for interaction between employers and institutions. The ranking is therefore a reflection of the dimensions that the company offers as consultancy services. The survey itself is conducted by Tredence Institut, a German private pollster.
The ranking is much more prominent in mainland Europe than in the Anglophone world, Asia or Latin America. To some extent, this is reflected in the distribution of votes given (see below).
10,928 employers were surveyed in 23 countries between July and September of 2021. 41.5% of employers were employing graduates to corporate roles, 26.5% to IT roles and 23% to engineering positions. They were asked to name up to 10 institutions. Unlike the QS ranking, no differentiation is made between voting for domestic institutions and international institutions.
The ranking considers employability to apply only to commercial and corporate sectors. It does not consider work in traditional professions like health or law, neither does it consider public or third sectors.
Limitations and strengths
While the countries of voters were released, there was no breakdown description of how many voters came from each country, or an indication that response numbers were normalised by population size. This means that while the sample is large, the presence of bias cannot be ruled out. Employers tend to vote for a mixture of local institutions that they regularly hire from, and globally prestigious institutions. This means that these types of assessment tend to display very strong Matthew effects, and can be heavily biased by the geographical distribution of respondents.
While they did not release data on the location of respondents, Emerging did release the data on the number of votes received by institutions per country. The country receiving the second most votes is France. There are nine French institutions in the top 100, compared to 8 British institutions, seven German institutions and five Chinese. Given that French institutions have suffered in rankings for a long time with a lack of international visibility, this strongly suggests that the sample represents French employers more than other countries, and the lack of international and domestic normalisation means that French institutions appear more in this ranking than in others. For comparison, the more Anglocentric QS employer survey has two French institutions among the top 100.
Furthermore, while reputation surveys are not directly related to size, they are influenced by it – universities that produce more graduates tend to perform better, for the simple reason that there are more of their graduates in the workplace. For this reason, USP finds it easier to appear in this ranking, and is indeed the only Brazilian institution that appears on the ranking.
In the 2022 edition, USP advanced 19 places over the previous edition into 90th. This means that it is the second highest profile institution in Latin America after Monterrey Tech, but ahead of comparable large public institutions like UNAM (121), UBA (141), Universidad de Chile (157).
Universities should be careful about over-analysing the results of surveys where the sample is not clear, what they should pay attention to, however, are the insights that the survey published on what employers prioritised. The responses were somewhat surprising, and could inform the way that we think about structuring the teaching curriculum.
Pre-covid vs post covid
When employers were asked which skills they saw as most important, there was a clear change between pre and post covid responses. While previously, the academic excellence of the institution was declared as the most important aspect for employability. In 2021, however, graduate skills had taken the number one position. Likewise, specialisation has declined slightly in terms of priority, while digital skills are not especially highly valued. I would speculate that this is because for a generation of digital natives who have spent two years receiving online education, digital skills are generally assumed among graduates, and not seen as an especially important skill for universities to teach.
The survey looks at which specific areas report the most difficulty in hiring graduates. The main areas identified are the presented in the table below.
|IT and software engineering||22%||5,67|
|FMCG (Fast-moving consumer goods)||5%||5,64|
|Engineering, design and manufacture||0%||5,52|
|Electro-technics and electronics||-5%||5,38|
|Construction and civil engineering||17%||5,36|
The survey looked at which skills specifically were most important to employers. They split these dimensions into what they thought was most important for entering the workforce now in the short term, and which skills would be most important in the long term.
The most important short-term skill that employers are looking for was identified as critical and problem-solving skills. The second was initiative. Both of these are important skills that should be learned over the course of a university education. In the long term, the most important skills were communication and creativity. In both dimensions, harder skills were identified as much lower priorities.
In the final section, employers were asked specifically what universities should be doing to help close these skills gaps. 88.8% of respondents said that universities must collaborate with companies, while 86.7% said that companies should collaborate in the development of university curricula. Both statistics show a strong global tendency towards greater integration of the productive sector and higher education. If properly governed and managed, this interaction is positive and can help to prepare students for the world of work. However, the corporate world is not the only sector of society with a relevant and important input into the construction of teaching curricula, but they are very often the best articulated.
If universities become dependent on collaboration with the productive sector alone, and not consider the third sector, civil society, the general population, environmental organisations and others, then they run a risk of reflecting a single narrow agenda in their teaching.
For example, when employers were asked about what universities should be teaching more of, they predictably emphasised relationship with the corporate world as very important, while sustainability topics, interdisciplinarity and intercultural perspectives were much less important. The mission of educating citizens and the next generation of leaders to be more responsible, aware and engaged than the generation before them. The purpose of undergraduate education is, to some extent, to prepare students for the world of work, but it is vital that they also undertake important missions that the corporate sector either doesn’t value or doesn’t fully understand.
This is also shown by the eagerness to comment on teaching methodology – practice and case studies are very much favoured, because they sound like corporate education, student flexibility sounds simple enough to understand. Interdisciplinarity, however, is a vital component that underpins the functioning of both and is completely disregarded.
Given that there is obvious demand for more interaction, but an associated risk to university autonomy and the over emphasis of certain agendas, it is important that universities build appropriately robust governance that can listen to the demands of the productive sector alongside other important stakeholders and integrate them into the planning and evaluation phases.
The risk of inaction in building and improving governance is that this engagement occurs in an unstructured manner, which has high attendant risks to university autonomy and to stakeholder access being tied to the financial resources on offer to the institution – the productive sector might try to “buy” its way into the curriculum, or that it does not happen at all, feeding an external perception that higher education is outdated and irrelevant to the modern world, and inflexible and inattentive to the society that sustains it.
What can universities learn from this survey ranking?
- Universities should strongly emphasise critical thinking and problem-solving skills over rote learning when planning its curriculums. This is seen by employers as more important than having the most up to date technical skills for most sectors.
- Universities must track their graduates into the workplace, and understand where they work, and what skills they benefitted from during their time studying. This type of information is best attained through graduate surveys through alumni associations.
- Whether through a consultive council or a different participatory mechanism, universities must find ways of engaging stakeholders in planning and evaluation phases. This should be part of a robust governance plan to ensure that participation is equitable among different stakeholders, relevant and timely.