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Graduate tracking procedure

While a few decades ago it was easy for a young person to decide which university to apply to, what degree was worth going for in the hope of finding a safe job and a high salary, nowadays it is not so simple to make a wise choice. Graduates with a fresh diploma are not in a better situation, either. Very often they only realise after graduation how difficult finding a job might be, and how challenging to live your life with a full-time job.

Employers are not too satisfied nowadays either: they find it increasingly daunting to track graduates with the appropriate qualifications who are fully aware what they will be required to do.

These challenges concern primarily those involved in tertiary education; therefore we need to address these problems, that is, what to teach and how to prepare our students for the tasks looming ahead of them. No college or university can afford to ignore its students’ progression path as they can be held highly responsible for their future; so the institutions should be required to find out how their graduates they can cope with their degree. One of the most efficient solutions to these recent dilemmas is a system or, more precisely, procedure (GTP) designed to track the progression paths of an institution’s graduates.

What can a GTP offer?

It is the introduction of a new system that is already well-known in more developed Western societies. Here, in Hungary, the Higher Education Act of 2005 stipulated for every college and university to launch such a procedure and follow their graduates and see how they can cope in the labour market”. In other words, these institutions are required to ask their graduates to provide voluntary data concerning their experience by giving details about the circumstances of finding their current job. These surveys are also conducted among current students, and learning about their motivations and contentment makes up an integral part of an efficient higher education institution.

The formal preconditions, as we can see, are given for the adoption of a tracking procedure, but how are we to fill it with content? Do we want the GTP to be an obligatory task that can be ‘ticked’, and thus creating a pile of mere figures, or would we prefer to make this task sensible and use it to provide useful information for all stake-holders?

We, at the University, think that this is highly significant issue. Over the past few years, we have been trying to work out how to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the GTP. Our point of departure was the fact that every higher education institution should give priority to their students’ conscious career-building efforts, their level of satisfaction, and its graduates’ successful job-seeking in the labour market. The quality of our activities is clearly justified if our students are satisfied with the education offered here and if our graduates can find a suitable job in the labour market.

But what does effective career tracking entail and, more importantly, how can it be guaranteed?

We believe that along the various “key competences” we can enter into a dialogue between the different stake-holders of higher education that might prove to be beneficial for all. Let us first assume that the labour market is some sort of a “client” for higher education institutions: they are after graduates that can meet their expectations. Our primary goal, therefore, is to map up these expectations and explore what kind of skills and competences there are in the background of a particular intellectual activity. Once an employer has drawn up such “competence maps” for a particular job (i.e. what requirements those with an andragogy diploma must comply with) we will have invaluable information as to how we should analyse and adjust our education in order to achieve the “required outcome”.

In this process, the next step is to conduct a survey among our graduates and ask them what assistance they were given during their studies to acquire specific competences; that is, what skills they had at the moment of graduation. It is equally important to interview them about the deviations experienced (feeling over-, or undereducated) when doing a certain job. They are also asked to give their opinion about other factors and aspects that have influenced their decision when accepting a certain job. We would like to know how they were able to make use of the competences they had; what marketing techniques they used to successfully “sell” themselves.

This feedback will help the university to improve its training content from a professional aspect. To achieve this end, we will translate our findings into the “language of curricula”, and will reconsider the development of competences to match them more carefully with the expected outcome. In addition, we will focus on another feature that might help our graduates’ career opportunities: we will teach them how to communicate during an interview, how their CV should be put together, what they should pay attention to, and what knowledge they will need to have when starting a new job (the Career Centre there are such development training courses already running). All these services are supplemented with a “motivation test” filled in by our students where they can detail what prospective plans and ideas they have for their future career. Additionally, they are also informed about the various expectations: the get feedback given by graduate students and employers; when filling out our questionnaire they can learn where they currently are in the process of acquiring the key competences required for their future job.

The above reasoning quite neatly illustrates what a vital role our graduates play in the whole process. They are our most important source of information because they know the institution “inside out” and are able to judge both its faults and virtues. Once faced with the expectations of the labour market they can describe the relationship between their obtained skills and the expectations of a position using the “language of competences”. They can direct our attention to  mperfections and deficiencies that may have contributed to their problems finding or keeping a certain job; or can highlight some of our strengths that may have boosted their career. All these can greatly enhance the quality of education and improve the reputation of the University. Our graduates’ feedback, consequently, is immensely helpful for us, teachers, and for the current students of the University.

Those who can reap the greatest benefits of GTP are our students! On the basis of our graduates’ feedback we restructure and tailor-make our training schemes suiting a wider range of interest and provide various services to find the best jobs possible. They will have the chance to learn about potential employer expectations during their studies, they can assess their skills and can exploit their University years more effectively. We can, at the same time, follow up their expectations towards our training schemes and services and can forward the information collected to the management responsible for the provision of the training courses and the various services.

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