Your Country Needs You
One man with a plan is Carl Gilleard. As chief executive of the Association of Graduate
Recruiters he has the ear of government and the AGR have sought to press their advantage with a manifesto representing their vision of the future. Real World caught up with Carl to see how graduate employers wants matches up with students’ interests.
Real World: What is the AGR manifesto?
Carl Gilleard: Just before election fever was beginning to grow we thought: ‘Other people do it, why shouldn’t we do it?’ Some of the things in (the manifesto) we’ve been saying
for some time but a couple of the more controversial points, around fees and removing the cap, are new. It’s partly summed up by ‘let’s put emphasis on quality’. Do (students) really want to invest three years in university and come out with something that employers don’t regard as being a quality experience?
RW : Is it a manifesto for what AGR members want for their benefit or for what the next government should do for society as a whole?
CG: I don’t see those as necessarily exclusive. The vast majority of students go to university with the prospect of bettering their lives. When you ask them ‘what do you mean by that?’ they invariably say a better job. The talent that most of our members focus on is talent in our university system so the recommendations are about providing a better educated, better prepared, more knowledgeable, more highly skilled, maybe even more highly motivated talent pool that can move into the world of work.
RW: Why abolish the target of 50% of young people in higher education?
CG: It’s nonsense. Why not 49% or 51%? It’s a notional figure, but because the government came out with it, it has driven the agenda to some extent. As soon as you say 50%, you’re looking at the quantity.
RW : Are quality and quantity mutually exclusive?
CG: Quantity has affected quality because the funding isn’t there to provide quality and the quantity at the same time. Bearing in mind that 1 in 2 going to university means you have a
much wider ability range. That adds to the cost because you have to provide different forms of teaching to accommodate all types. All indicators are that we’re not going to have the amount of money in the system to do that. That’s why we say ‘if it comes down to a bald choice between quality and quantity, employers will go for quality first every time’.
RW : The AGR wants to lift the cap on fees, why?
CG: Our principal reason for wanting to lift the cap is that it will drive up standards. Mainly becuase universities will have to really examine ‘if we’re going to charge £10,000 a year for this course, what value is the student going to get?’ The student will be empowered and think ‘I’ve got an expectation, this is what you said I would get from this course’. So a cancelled lecture is a break in the contract. It will inevitably drive up standards.
RW: Lifting the cap would allow a wider range in the fees. Will that not mean that certain universities will become only for the richest student?
CG: There is that risk but in a free market you can’t charge what you want. The government has already applied quite a lot of pressure on institutions to come up with effective ways of widening participation. Why would that need to stop?
RW : If some universities can charge £50,000+ for a course, would that not leave those institutions even better off and those with existing financial difficulties worse off?
CG: I don’t know. I haven’t got the answers to everything. These problems will be there anyway if nothing changes so something will have to change. Potentially, universities will need to look at delivering courses in a more costeffective way. That might mean mergers
between different universities.
RW : By publishing a manifesto, the AGR puts itself in the place of ‘if we were the government what would we do’?
CG: I don’t think we do. I don’t think we expect any incoming government to take on all of those things. It is for debate and there may be alternative ways. One of the things we’ve said is that maybe employers should be contributing more.
RW : How should they contribute more?
CG: One very obvious way is that universities should go into close partnership with employers. There are some examples of that; there are some companies who fund courses.
RW : The AGR manifesto argues for a tax break for employers who recruit graduates – why?
CG: We need to get employers who traditionally haven’t recruited graduates attracted to the notion of taking them in. I’m convinced that once they do they’ll see the benefits of having those graduates so a tax break, a little financial incentive, could work wonders.
RW : How much of the manifesto do you think the next government is likely to take onboard?
CG: The manifesto will outlive the election. It will be out there for all to refer to. With just a few days to go it seems as if the election result is too close to call. Who knows which party
or parties will form the next government but whoever gets in will have to address the challenges faced by higher education in the Uk quickly, especially the funding issues. I hope the next government will consider our proposals seriously