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2004:5 R

Graduate follow-up - what higher education institutions do

This report derives from a task assigned by the government to study the processes used by the higher education institutions to adapt their programmes to labour market needs. The National Agency for Higher Education´s study found that graduate follow-up was rarely listed among these processes. In order to find out more about the extent to which higher education institutions actually investigate what happens to their graduates, the National Agency conducted a questionnaire survey during 2002. Its findings are presented in this report.

During the period covered by the questionnaire (1997-2002) the higher education institutions had undertaken a large number of follow-up studies. Even if there is a clear tendency for higher education institutions to follow up graduates to an increasing extent, there are still only a few that do so systematically. The responses to the questionnaire reveal that engineers, graduates in economics and qualified nurses have been followed up to a greater extent than graduates from other programmes. One example is Växjö University, which undertakes a study of all engineering students three years after graduation. Another example can be found in the Karolinska Institute, which conducts a study of student nurses using both interviews and questionnaires.

Administrative support is required if follow-up studies are to implemented systematically. Institutions that have well developed methods for student follow-up also have administrators who consider them to form an important element in the quality assurance process. Follow-up demands resources, both in terms of time and money. As a rule, it is the student counsellors for the different programmes or the student offices for undergraduates that initiate follow-up studies. They are also usually responsible for their implementation.

On the whole, follow-up studies are intended to determine how relevant a programme is for student success on the labour market. They may also have other purposes, for example to establish reasons for dropping out. The most frequent follow-up method for graduates is to use postal questionnaires with multiple-choice responses. They demand relatively limited resources and can easily be repeated to provide comparable findings over time. Several higher education institutions also use interviews for graduate follow-up.

Many higher education institutions state that marketing is an important area in which the results of these follow-ups can be put to use. This marketing is aimed at prospective students and in some cases employers.

Two chapters in the report describe the way in which the central evaluation units at Lund University and Uppsala University function. One outcome of having a central evaluation function is that it makes it easier to provide the basis for statistics and comparisons for the university as a whole. A central unit is also independent of faculty boards and departments and can therefore be considered more neutral than their own department by those responding to a questionnaire. Another advantage of central evaluation units lies in the possibility of gathering information systematically, which may be difficult for individual programmes that do not have the same resources at their disposal.