A decade of study on employer feedback on the quality of university graduates

Published date06 July 2015
Date06 July 2015
AuthorMahsood Shah,Leonid Grebennikov,Chenicheri Sid Nair
Subject MatterEducation,Curriculum, instruction & assessment,Educational evaluation/assessment
A decade of study on employer
feedback on the quality of
university graduates
Mahsood Shah
The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia
Leonid Grebennikov
The University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia, and
Chenicheri Sid Nair
The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to outline four separate studies undertaken in two Australian
universities between 2003 and 2012 on employer feedback on the quality of university graduates. Higher
education has expanded signicantly in the past decade. The expansion has been in student enrolments with
a focus on increasing the participation of disadvantaged students; the emergence of new kinds of providers
other than universities; new modes of education delivery; and the internationalisation of higher education.
The diversity of higher education institutions and quality issues require the assessment of graduate quality
based on feedback from employers. The lack of such assessment on graduate quality based on employer
voice risks the production of graduates with focus on success (quantity) rather than excellence (quality). It
also disconnects the engagement between higher education institutions and employers to assess trends and
changes in various industries and professions that require employer input in course development and
renewal to meet the changing needs of the industries.
Design/methodology/approach – A quantitative method using online survey to gather feedback from
employers of university graduates was used. The survey tool has been previously used in other studies.
Findings – A decade of study using quantitative and qualitative methods with different employers in
two different geographic locations clearly shows that employer views on the quality of university
graduates in a range of capabilities have remained consistent. The study also outlines the challenges in
gathering feedback from employers and how data are used in curriculum reviews and enhancements.
Research limitations/implications – The study has a number of limitations, including gathering
up-to-date employer data, and engagement of employers in the survey.
Practical implications – Practical implications could include the use of survey data in new course
developments, review of courses and further enhancement to ensure course relevance.
Originality/value – This is the rst longitudinal study undertaken using the same survey instrument
in two universities. The study engaged 485 employers.
Keywords Quality assurance, Feedback, Employers, Employer survey,
Employer perception of university graduates, Graduate quality, Employer satisfaction
Paper type Research paper
Higher education has experienced massive expansion in terms of student enrolments
and the emergence of new kinds of providers (Shah and Jarzabkowski, 2013). The
increased exibility, new kinds of providers and new modes of education delivery all
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 30 April 2014
Revised 19 June 2014
23 July 2014
Accepted 5 August 2014
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.23 No. 3, 2015
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/QAE-04-2014-0018
underline the need to assess the quality of graduates based on feedback from employers
and industry bodies representing different professions. There are concerns worldwide
that existing undergraduate programmes are not producing graduates with the kinds of
lifelong learning skills and professional skills which they need to be successful in their
professions (AAGE, 2011;AGR, 1995;BHERT, 2002;Candy and Crebert, 1991;Candy
et al., 1994;Harvey, 1993;Harvey and Green, 1994;ICAA, 1994;NBEET, 1992;Nair and
Patil, 2011). Articles in the media (for example, The Australian) have also highlighted
the views of various professional accrediting bodies in relation to the gap between
employability skills attained by graduates and what employers want in professions
including accounting, nance and economics. Also, the most recent study undertaken in
Australia by the prominent business industry group (Australian Industry Group, 2009)
suggests that employers recognise employability skills, a positive attitude and work
experience as the most important factors when recruiting graduates. The same study
also showed employer dissatisfaction in some specic areas which included teamwork
skills, business and customer awareness and the lack of relevant work experience. A
large-scale study funded by the Commonwealth Government with 1,105 graduate
employers in Australia found that employers rated ve skills as most important:
creativity and air; enthusiasm; capacity for independent and critical thinking; and
exibility and adaptability (Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs,
2000). Most recent study in Australia with graduates and their supervisors found the
following strengths in graduates: specic knowledge and skills suitable for the eld;
teamwork and interpersonal skills; written and oral communication skills; research
skills; autonomy, self-organisation and exibility; and critical thinking and analytical
skills (Workplace Research Centre, University of Sydney, 2014, p. 72).
Previous studies in various contexts suggest concerns raised by employers and
industries about the quality of university graduates. De la Harpe et al. (2000) in Australia
suggested that undergraduate programmes are failing to provide graduates with the
necessary skills for their careers. Shah and Nair’s (2011) research with 400 graduate
employers from different industries in Australia found the following graduate
capabilities rated by employers as high on importance and low on satisfaction:
being able to communicate effectively;
ability to organise work and manage time effectively;
being willing to face and learn from errors and listen openly to feedback;
ability to set and justify priorities;
being exible and adaptable; and
a willingness to listen to different points of views before coming to a decision.
Scott et al.’s (2010) study in two public hospitals in Australia reported ten skills rated as
most important by graduate nurses:
(1) clinical practice;
(2) ability to organise work and manage time effectively;
(3) understanding personal strengths and limitations;
(4) ability to set and justify priorities;
(5) wanting to produce as good a job as possible;
Quality of

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