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Student Experience Survey results: What can universities learn from the top 10 careers services?

The results of the 2018 Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey were recently published, and while there’s been some movement, the top 10 includes some very consistent winners. We’re going beyond the numbers, to see what drives this success, and what lessons can be learnt by other universities.

The results of this year’s Student Experience Survey finds Loughborough in first place overall, scoring 85.1% and Harper Adams University dropping to second place by a miniscule margin, scoring 84.9%. Loughborough has come out on top 8 times since the survey first started in 2006, and has made it in to the top 10 for the 11th time. 

The survey comprises a number of different measures, and Loughborough scores top marks for several of these, including societal opportunities or extracurricular activities, community atmosphere, environment on campus and around university, quality of facilities as well as student support and welfare.

‘Industry connections’ is one of the categories measured by the survey. It is intertwined with employability support and opportunities to gain work experience: ‘Many students heading off to university want to be sure that their institution has good connections with industry. Opportunities to secure work placements, and to learn from the expertise of practising professionals in the “real world’ (Times Higher 2018. ‘Student Experience Survey 2018: best UK universities for industry connections’. [ONLINE] Available here.

The results in this category actually favour Harper Adams, achieving first place with 90.8% and Loughborough second with 88.8%. The key to their success is no secret. Harper Adams University freely share their winning formula on their website: ‘Our graduate employment rate is consistently outstanding, thanks to the placement year all students take, our relationships with more than 700 businesses’ (- 2018. ‘Careers & Placement’. [ONLINE] Available here

At Harper Adams, all students complete a placement as part of their studies. For other universities, where placements are optional, it’s clear that a strong focus on placement support could return significant dividends in future survey results.

Placements are key; we know from our experience of supporting students and graduates at a number of universities across the UK and beyond. Practical experience and networking opportunities gained through completing a work placement help students to compete more effectively for graduate roles.

Our Employability Service has built valuable industry connections across London, the UK and internationally. We share our industry connections with our partner universities to provide opportunities for networking: bringing together businesses, students and practicing professionals to share experiences and to collaborate on new projects. Our employer initiatives include: speed networking, industry panel events and careers fairs. Our advisers have launched Gradstock™ a unique summer festival for second and third year students, where our SME clients and corporate partnerships join together to progress skills for employment. Our advisers also provide 1:1 and 1:many tailored support with searching for, and securing meaningful work placements.

Take a look at some of the ways these top 10 universities are delivering placement and employability support:

University of Leeds: the Careers Centre at Leeds include useful ‘organisational profiles’ giving background information about employers to help students chose opportunities and make tailored applications. Students can also access ‘blackboard collaboration’: a regular chat forum which aims to guide students through each step of the placement process, from searching for opportunities to returning to university after completion. ( 2018 [ONLINE] Available here:

Newcastle University (top 10 for 4 consecutive years):

‘Newcastle graduates have some of the best career prospects in the UK. 95% of our 2015/16 UK/EU graduates progressed to employment or further study within six months of graduating.

‘More than 250 employers visit us each year to attend recruitment fairs, hold interviews and deliver presentations, ultimately to recruit our students. We advertise over 3,000 vacancies, work experience and placement opportunities with our Careers Service each year. We have excellent links with local employers, who provide a wide range of work experience and graduate opportunities.’ (NCL.AC.UK. 2018 ‘Meet Employers at Newcastle University’ [Online] Available here.

Royal Veterinary College: ‘We encourage our students to start thinking about their career options early on and to develop their employability skills during their time at RVC, both independently and through curriculum-based activities.’ ( 2018. ‘Careers’ [ONLINE] Available here.  

Robert Gordon University: ‘The latest statistics from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey show that RGU has a top employment record, with 96.5% of its graduates in work or further study six months after leaving university.

‘Robert Gordon University is consistently ranked highly for graduate prospects, which is a result of our close relationship with industry to ensure our courses are tailored to meet the needs of employers, as well as how we prepare our graduates for the workplace.

‘Many of our courses include a work placement to provide students with an opportunity to enhance their learning by gaining essential professional skills while making valuable industry contacts, which often leads directly to graduate job offers.’  ( 2018. ‘Robert Gordon University ranked as top UK university for graduate employability’ [ONLINE] Available here

University of Cambridge: Each year over 7,000 graduate-level opportunities and internships across all sectors feature in the Service’s Vacancies & Opportunities database. Cambridge graduates are welcome to use the Careers Service throughout their working lives; over 21,000 currently do so’.

( 2018. ‘Careers Service’ [ONLINE] Available here

Imperial College: ‘Professional skills are incorporated into the many and varied elements of the degree course and acquired alongside and during the study of Chemistry.’ ‘Volunteer work, outreach, clubs and societies also provide opportunities for students to gain valuable experience whilst helping others while the College’s Horizons programme gives students the chance to broaden their skills with courses in business and professional skills or languages.’ ( 2018 ‘Employability & Professional Skills’ [ONLINE] Available here

University of Oxford: ‘Some departments also offer support to graduate students, that tackle the individual needs of individuals who are studying that subject area. For example, the Faculty of Philosophy runs a placement scheme which supports graduate research students pursuing an academic career from their final year until they secure a tenure track or permanent position in philosophy. As well as giving students advice and guidance, the scheme helps students perfect their CV, application materials and runs mock interviews’. ( 2018. ‘Careers Advice & Support’ [ONLINE] Available here.

Sheffield: ‘One of our five-year strategic priorities is the “creation of an employability strategy by the University, to be adapted by each Faculty to suit disciplinary contexts, with an identifiable skills spine running through every programme.’

Also, the Chemistry department at Sheffield has an initiative to help students develop the skills they need to compete for opportunities: ‘Students compete for projects through an employment-style application requiring them to justify their choice of project as well as the reasons they are a suitable candidate.’( 2018 ‘Employability’ [ONLINE] Available here.

University of Surrey:  ‘Professional Training is an integral part of life at the University of Surrey and is a fantastic opportunity for all Surrey students allowing them to experience life after university.’

( 2018 ‘Professional Training’ [ONLINE] Available here

University of Exeter: Students at Exeter can benefit from a number of employability initiatives including eXfactor employability and professional development day, an award-winning employability programme: ‘The eXfactor programme divides students by discipline, so that the experience is specific to you and your subject. Throughout the day you’ll be taking part in experiential learning activities, such as developing your emotional intelligence, decision-making and learning how to promote yourself to employers.’ The eXfactor experience often includes a guest speaker (usually be Exeter alumni or representatives of relevant companies or organisations). ‘This is a unique opportunity for you to network with people who can give you guidance, recommendations and new ideas about how you might like to use your degree after university’.

The Exeter Award is another great initiative. It’s an achievement award in recognition of involvement in activities outside of academic studies. The award encourages students at Exeter to develop a range of transferable skills. ( 2018. ‘Employability Training & Events’ [ONLINE] Available here.

The results:

Top 10 overall:

  1. Loughborough University

  2. Harper Adams University

  3. University of Leeds

  4. University of Bath

  5. University of Sheffield

  6. University of Oxford

  7. University of Surrey

  8. Newcastle University

  9. University of Exeter

  10. University of Chichester

Top 10 for ‘Industry Connections’:

  1. Harper Adams University

  2. Loughborough University

  3. University of Bath

  4. Royal Veterinary College

  5. London School of Economics & Political Science

  6. Imperial College

  7. University of Surrey

  8. University of Leeds

  9. University of Cambridge

  10. Falmouth University

For more information about how Exemplas can support your existing employability service, call 01707 398290 or email