Global University Employability Survey, designed by French human resources company Emerging exclusively for Times Higher Education, published the Global Employability Ranking for 2016 showing which universities recruiters at top companies think are the best at preparing students for the workplace.
Employers voted from a 150 universities spanning 34 different countries, from the US in the west to Japan in the east. They voted both for universities in their own country and around the world if they recruit internationally.
In European countries like France, Switzerland and Germany, professional experience is built into degree programmes. That is why France, Germany and Switzerland are among the best represented countries in the employability ranking, along with the United Kingdom and the United States.
Both Germany and Japan have an institution in the top 10, with Chinese and Canadian universities also appearing high in the ranking.
Almost 100 universities in the United States have been chosen by employers as the best in the country for preparing graduates for jobs. These include Harvard, Princeton, CalTech and Stanford but also the University of Florida and Arizona State University, which have not always been found right at the top of university rankings.
The Technical University of Munich is the only institution outside the US, UK or Japan to make it into the top 10 in the new survey.
Wolfgang Herrmann, TUM’s president, credits this success to the deep relationships between the university and industry in Bavaria.
The university’s academics also work for companies such as BMW, Siemens and Lindner, which gives students an immediate insight into the work environment.
“There is no other technical university that has such a rich economic environment and especially a technical economic environment [as] we do here in Munich,” says Herrmann.
A number of other institutions at the top of the ranking including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University, are also well known for their industry connections and entrepreneurial environment.
Brett Alpert, Stanford’s associate dean of career education (and director of its employer engagement programme, known as Career Ventures), says that students get a broad range of experiences at university.
“A broad-based curriculum is certainly beneficial in helping students develop the combination of leadership skills, critical thinking skills and technical expertise needed to successfully navigate workplace and societal challenges and opportunities while enabling them to find success not only in their careers, but in life more generally,” he says.
Despite this holistic approach to employability advocated by some careers advisers, most employers are clear that “professional experience” and a “high degree of specialisation” are the best predictors of employability in graduates.
However, Eden Woon, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s vice-president for institutional advancement says,
“I think just as important as being knowledgeable about a specific subject is the ability to adapt, be innovative and to apply knowledge in different ways,” he says.
“We are very firm in the belief that the university is not a vocational training institute. So the purpose of the university is not just to prepare you for jobs. The purpose of the university is really to give students a skill so that they can go and find a job but, more importantly, it is really to prepare students for what happens after they get a job. In other words, whether they can adapt to the job and adapt to changes that the world requires of them. That is where innovation, creativity and attitude come in.”
In the survey, just under 90 per cent of employers define employability as “a set of job-related aptitudes, attitudes and behaviours”, naming adaptability, teamwork and communication as some of these traits.
Though many recruiters feel that a degree from a top university is not necessarily indicative that a graduate has the essential skills for the professional environment, they feel compelled to defer to university rankings and reputation to select their employees.
Thus the new employability ranking puts the world’s most prestigious universities, such as Harvard, Cambridge, Yale and Oxford, near the very top. This is a paradox.
One explanation for this is increasing international mobility. In 2014, for instance, there were more than 5 million internationally mobile students around the world, up from just over 2 million in 2000. As employers receive more international applications, it becomes ever more important for ambitious students to graduate from a university that has a “global brand”.
That is certainly the view of Laurent Dupasquier, associate director of Emerging. “Suddenly you have students who are really looking globally, they are looking for a specific brand. Their degree is going to be a brand: something they can use as a passport all their life, which will allow them to work anywhere in the world and for companies of any nationality,” Dupasquier says.
The survey has been running for six years as a collaboration between Human Resources consultancy Emerging and employment research group Trendence. It is published exclusively by Times Higher Education.