Thursday, 6 August 2009

Selecting for success

The Senior management team sat glumly around the oval oak table in one of the highest towers of Funcaster's Victorian Main Building. The windows gave a panoramic view of the rain swept former industrial city.

"Mr President" was looking an gloomy as the weather.

As you know we have once again done disastrously in the newspaper league tables of universities. The ignominy of being battered in to 80th position by the University of Barnstaple. While our neighboring "Funcaster City University" rides high on some spectacular results. I want some positive ideas and I want them now or we may as well cast ourselves from the Victorian parapet and be done with it.

Professor Knowles is straight in: As I see it vice chancellor our two biggest problems are these columns: "graduate employability" and "student satisfaction"

THANK YOU PROFESSOR KNOWLES! Shouts the President in a rage. I will have to change your title to Vice President for the Bleeding Obvious!

If you will let me continue Mr President? We are looking at the problem the wrong way. For years we have been bending over backwards to give them better teaching and feedback, and our careers service has been virtually begging FTSE100 companies to take our graduates. These have plainly had no effect. What we need to do is to change the input not the output!

The Senior Management Team look first dumbfounded and then begin to warm to the idea

You see we have students with a culture of complaining, indeed we have a whole city whose most positive outlook is that things are mildly bad. The weather, the buses, they are never satisfied. So ask the questions like "Are you satisfied with..." and the answer is obviously going to stray towards "No" whatever the question.

So here is what we do, we use a screening test, like a personality profile, at the interview. Only give offers to those students who on the whole have a tendency toward being satisfied.

Prof Banks is cottoning on and gets excited. Yes yes. We could give them a decidedly mediocre lunch (we probably already do that) then we could ask them what they thought of it at the interview. Those who manage to put a positive spin on something barely edible get an offer!

And we could do the same for employability. Instead of selecting on academic ability we could select on employability from the outset. We could use the same bank of psychometric tests and interview techniques big companies use in their graduate recruitment. We will only take students who are going to look good when they apply for these jobs. That way our "employability" will shoot through the roof.

Thank you professors Banks and Knowles. Excellent suggestions I think there is hope after all. Snedders, draft a confidential policy document and make sure the departments implement it before the next round of interviews start!

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Adam Upwrite is Professor of Creative Accounting at the University of Middle England. His Registrar's Diary is about a fictional registrar and an equally fictional English university.