HEFCE’s Learning Gain programme supports collaborative institutional projects to pilot and evaluate a range of approaches for capturing educational outcomes and analysing how students benefit from higher education.
Ravensbourne’s Learning Gain pilot sought to create a taxonomy of activities that prepare students for work, and demonstrate the statistical validity of measuring the relationship between these activities and gaining employment.
In this blog, the college explains that – despite creating successful methods of measurement – they are no closer to a one-size-fits-all metric than before their exploration began.
What we did
The notion of ‘work-ready’ graduates is an increasingly important theme for policy-makers. It has always been crucial to the institutions in our pilot, which emphasise preparation for employment as an embedded and practice-based element of their curricular and co-curricular activities.
Therefore we examined the various ways that students were primed for the place of work by the participating institutions, and identified a number of types of ‘work preparation’ beyond what is captured in either the old or the new Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey.
We then developed and tested three robust, scalable methodologies based on existing data sources that attempted to quantify and qualify students’ experience of work preparation and its relation to graduate outcomes.
Two of these methodologies cross-referenced internally-held data against data from the DLHE and Longitudinal DLHE surveys, and the third focused on student self-evaluation data collected before and after work placements.
What we found
The collective results from one methodology show that the range of activities offered by the pilot institutions to help students prepare for employment are beneficial to students as they embark on their careers.
Students who did more work preparation activities were more likely to be employed than their counterparts, six months down the line. They were also more likely to be employed in what the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) defines as ‘highly-skilled’ jobs, and our methodology would allow other definitions to be tested in the same way.
Qualitative feedback from the students using a different methodology backs up the quantitative data. The methodologies also allow us to evaluate and monitor the perceived value of individual activities over time, and provide more granular detail than the DLHE about what graduate employability looks like.
In terms of measurement tools, our study confirms that specialist creative institutions are indeed ‘special’ – traditional metrics, such as salary and qualifications on entry, are less useful ways of measuring graduate outcomes for our student cohort.
Our project provides evidence that the institutions that make up the HE sector are not uniform in their characteristics and approaches, and therefore cannot be evaluated on measures that assume that they are.
What we heard back
The process of undertaking this pilot project was illuminating and rewarding in itself. Responses from students who took part in our self-evaluation methodology confirm that it:
- has positive implications for employment
- helps students gain greater insight into more specific aspects of their own employment journey and personal development
- encourages welcomed contact between graduates and their alma mater.
Equally, staff members involved in the study across our partners agreed that the methodologies are valuable above and beyond measuring Learning Gain, and provide deeper insight into individual institutions’ approaches to learning, teaching and employability.
Where do we go from here?
Our pilot identified some general rules that could be used to measure any work-focused or practice-led provision regardless of discipline. At Ravensbourne, the institution leading the pilot project, our annual course monitoring will continue to develop and reflect these measures of Learning Gain going forward. Evidence from this pilot also complemented Ravensbourne’s TEF submission.
While our study confirms much of what we know intuitively, it does not bring us any closer to defining a single metric that can be used to measure Learning Gain. HEFCE launched the Learning Gain pilots with a message that measurements “must recognise context”, and that message continues to resonate.
What our pilot confirmed is that Learning Gain is as diverse and intricate as each of the individual students any one metric hopes to evaluate. Rather than focus on narrowing down what Learning Gain is, our study points to widening and broadening the ways in which it can be measured, in order to reflect the wide range of experiences in which learning can and does take place.
Preparation for the workplace is as important to many students as it is to employers. And therefore as important to measure as other outcomes.
Ravensbourne is a university sector college in the field of digital media and design, located in Greenwich, London.
Ravensbourne’s partner institutions within the Learning Gain project are: Arts University, Bournemouth; Falmouth University; Norwich University of the Arts; Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance; Southampton Solent University; Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.