Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7951044809 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7538736244.
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The graduate labour market post COVID-19: priorities for university careers services and the role of universities, employers and government in preparing students

Morning, Tuesday, 20th October 2020

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will examine the way forward for improving the employability of graduates and giving them the best start as they enter the job market.

It takes place against the backdrop of the economic impact of COVID-19 and with concerns about the prospect of widespread unemployment as the economy contracts.

Delegates will look at the implications for students who have graduated this summer and in the coming years - as well as for universities, their careers services, and businesses looking to recruit.

The discussion in detail:

Responding to changes in the graduate labour market

  • how students, employers, and universities and their careers services, are adapting to the impact of the pandemic and the support offered to students in navigating a difficult labour market
  • how businesses have initially reacted to graduate recruitment in light of the pandemic
  • approaches that they can take in the short term to maintain effective recruitment practices, including shifting to digital recruitment practices
  • what can be learnt from previous recessions

University careers services

  • new approaches being used - with the increasing importance of information, advice and guidance in a changing employment market with challenging operational conditions
  • enhanced service delivery - with use of podcasts and online streams, and ensuring that as far as possible all students are able to access their support online both before and after graduation
  • developing new online content - reflecting how students might need to adapt their career plans in light of the pandemic
  • ensuring outreach to international graduates is maintained during the pandemic
  • maintaining a broad offer - serving increasing demand for helping students to deal with potential health issues, and periods of unemployment, whilst maintaining their employability

Skills, course structures and student attitudes to employability

  • student and employers attitudes, and effectiveness of HEI graduate employability strategies - the extent to which:
    • student degree choices are influenced by future employment prospects
    • graduate employment prospects are being improved by the increased focus on employability within curriculum design in recent years
    • the attractiveness and appeal of some universities to prospective students is going to be altered by increased difficulties for students in getting a job after graduation
    • universities should adapt to maintain their appeal as a good place to study and progress to an attractive job and career
  • university strategies:
    • how the introduction of the TEF and the release of LEO data is impacting HEI decision-making around employability and investment in careers guidance services
    • the influence of TEF and LEO data on university decisions on future course provision, with some in the sector expressing concern about the quality of provision offered by some courses
    • how graduate wellbeing is impacted by the changing graduate career pathways brought about by COVID-19 and how this may affect future LEO data
    • how data from the period affected by the pandemic will be referenced in metric tables going forward
    • options for designing a broader metric of successful student outcomes
    • the recent announcement by government that universities in England will be able to bid for extra places to be made available on courses which are of ‘strategic importance’.

Postgraduate study

  • the potential for a post-COVID recession to lead to an increased number of students staying in higher education after graduation
  • the impact of postgraduate courses - which are seeing growing uptake - such as initial teacher training in improving access to increased chances of employment
  • how postgraduate qualifications affect future career prospects and workforce skills - and implications for the economy, and for at HEIs as they adapt to new demand and resourcing requirements

Links with employers, internships and widening participation

  • the role of employers and government in supporting graduates into employment, with large businesses and SMEs indicating that they will reduce the number of graduates they recruit this year
  • with concerns that people from a BAME background, women and disabled workers have been disproportionately affected by the rise in unemployment as a consequence of COVID-19 thus far - how can employers and HEIs work to avoid exacerbating the disparities already seen amongst such graduate groups entering the labour market
  • the impact of the rise in technology-driven forms of employment and recruitment on under-represented groups
  • what can be learned from the development of virtual internships in offering opportunities for socially distanced work experience during the pandemic
  • options for businesses, including maintaining access to short term work opportunities, such as internships and placements, particularly for disadvantaged graduates and those without professional connections
  • options for government such as subsidies for employers to maintain access to internships and placements, and establishment of a youth employment taskforce to monitor the situation in the post COVID period and investigate possible policy solutions

Developments that are relevant to the discussion:

  • Reports from both the National Institute for Economic Research and the IfS finding that the UK is likely to see a large increase in unemployment in the coming months, which will potentially lead to an increase in the number of graduates in ‘non-graduate’ jobs
  • The Institute of Student Employers employer survey finding that respondents have reduced their planned recruitment for this year by 23%, and almost 40% of employers are yet to finalise their hiring plans for the coming year
  • A drop in graduate confidence in their future prospects in light of the pandemic, with recent research finding that 63% of students have seen applications put on hold or paused, as well as a 73% decline in graduate vacancies with each graduate position now seeing competition from over 100 graduates
  • Uncertainty surrounding the future of the TEF and how teaching excellence will be measured in the UK universities following the COVID-19 pandemic

The agenda:

  • An overview of the graduate employment market
  • The impact of COVID-19 on university careers services
  • Priorities for careers services and employers - responding to changing demand, meeting student expectations, and the impact of postgraduate qualifications on employment prospects
  • Ensuring university courses prepare students for employment after graduation - providing skills employers need, course structures, employment opportunities and student choices, and graduate outcomes (LEO) data
  • Widening access - supporting the link between students and employers
  • The role of employers and government in supporting students into employment - building strong employer links post-COVID-19, the impact of unpaid internships and widening access
  • Improving graduate employment prospects - key policy priorities

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders.

This conference looks no different. Places have been reserved by officials from the Department for Education; the Cabinet Office; DWP; BEIS; DCMS; the Department for Communities, NI; the Department for International Trade; the Government Equalities Office; the Ministry of Justice; the Department for the Economy, NI; the Valuation Office Agency and the Welsh Government.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speaker

Dr Charlie Ball

Head of Higher Education Intelligence, Jisc

Keynote Speakers

Dr Charlie Ball

Head of Higher Education Intelligence, Jisc

Senior speaker confirmed from the Department for Education

Dr Bob Gilworth

Senior Lecturer in Careers Guidance, School of Education and Professional Development, University of Huddersfield

James Uffindell

CEO and Founder, Bright Network

Stephen Isherwood

Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Student Employers


Lord Bilimoria

Chancellor, University of Birmingham and President, CBI

Emma Hardy MP

Shadow Minister for FE and Universities


James Darley

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Transform Society

Ellen Cocking

Assistant Director, Enhanced Employability and Careers Progression and Head of Careers and Employability Services, The Open University

Naomi Oosman-Watts

Director of Data Insight, Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services and Head of Strategic Projects, Student Services, Newcastle University

Dr Matt Dickson

Reader in Public Policy, Institute for Public Policy, University of Bath

Rob Fryer

Director of Student Life, University of Leicester

Dr Andrew Gunn

Political Economist of Higher Education, University of Leeds

Andrew Bargery

Campus and Schools Engagement Leader, PwC

Kwame Asamoah Kwarteng

General Secretary, University of Manchester Students' Union

Dr Kate Daubney

Head of Careers and Employability, King’s College London

Dr Erika Kispeter

Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick