Back in June, the Government produced a white paper entitled ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ setting out proposals to reform Higher Education and improving the student experience by opening up the market. For me, one of the main features, which was less talked about, was the need to remove regulatory barriers to encourage more sandwich courses, along with strengthening university-industry links. Often criticised for prolonging the University experience unnecessarily, I fear that the true benefits of sandwich courses are often ignored, as the potential rewards to individuals and businesses are enormous.
Findings from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) indicate that higher level skills are forecast for the future. At present, 31% of the UK workforce has a degree level or equivalent qualification and this is set to rise to 42% by 2020. Combined with significant progress in raising qualification levels over the last 10 years, the supply of higher level skills is strong. On the demand side however, the scales are barely rising, as higher level job creation is slow and recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that one in five graduates earned less than the average pay for someone educated at an A-level standard.
So where do sandwich courses fit into this problem I hear you ask? Well, clearly higher level qualifications are not enough to secure higher level jobs. Therefore sandwich courses present an opportunity for students to gain valuable experience in industry and also demonstrate how they can apply their learning. And while many graduates struggle to find appropriately skilled jobs, those who have already completed a year in industry have a firmer grasp of the recruitment process and the skills required to get through the employment net.
Turning to the business gains, sandwich courses are an appetising filling to meeting prevailing skills shortages, as university students can tailor to their requirements, or even building up new skills in their workforce in line with future trends. This can include the drive towards a low carbon economy, or even the shift towards online or digital tools to stimulate business growth. Thus sandwich courses can provide a taster to businesses in considering higher level job creation which essentially helps to elevate the much needed demand for higher level skills.
On a practical level too, sandwich courses are a means of attracting talented individuals at a lower cost to businesses, and for a shorter period of time compared to hiring someone on a permanent basis. For instance, Manchester Metropolitan University offers a flexible modular programme to undergraduate and postgraduate accountancy students. This is beneficial to businesses as it incorporates professional body qualifications into the course which reduces their training costs. Mutually beneficial to the student, they too can continue with their studies with industry experience under their belt.
As a Talent and Resources director of Crossrail Ltd and a Commissioner at UKCES, developing and attracting talented individuals is key to my work. So before you dispel what sandwich courses have to offer, chew on some of benefits to both businesses and individuals alike.
Image: Jekyll's sandwich by avlxyz