Head of Oxford Careers Service defends tutorial comments

The head of Oxford University’s Careers Service has defended his comments on the benefits and shortcomings of Oxford’s tutorial system.

Jonathan Black, who is also a fellow of New College, was reported as having said that the system “doesn’t prepare graduates for the world of work” and that the tutorial system acts as a “poor education for the job market.”

Speaking exclusively to Cherwell, Black clarified his remarks, commenting, “I do not believe that the Tutorial system actually damages employability prospects, just that there are other skills that recruiters will be assessing that have to be learned in all the other parts of Oxford.

“I think the essential point missing from their reporting is that the employers were asked how well Oxford students demonstrate the key employability skills, not whether they had them or not. I suspect that students to have many of these skills but are often not demonstrating them sufficiently.”

A study of 500 major UK employers carried out by the University Careers Service this year, which seeks to compare how job applicants with an Oxford degree compare in the eyes of employers with those from other universities, showed that Oxford students clearly demonstrate self-management and problem-solving skills. However, they were less likely to exhibit superior teamwork, business awareness and leadership skills.

With regards to this study, Black commented, “The point of the research… is to quantify what employers think of students, understand where there might be gaps, address them from the careers view, [and explain] to students where they may need to concentrate as they prepare for interviews… so in that regard, we hope they find this useful information.”

Whilst the study is critical of Oxford students’ ability to demonstrate certain key skills, its findings also show that between 20% and 50% of employers reported that students with an Oxford degree were ‘better or much better’ than the average student.

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Black also stressed to Cherwell that the Careers Service actively works to help students develop and demonstrate these key skills in the light of these findings, with programmes such as their Student Consultancy, internships, and the Insight Into Teaching scheme. Some of these programmes are unique to Oxford.

The Careers Service page on the University website claims that the university organises 15 careers fairs per year, alongside over 450 workshops run by careers advisers every year and up to ten times that number of potential one-to-one appointments that can be accommodated by the service every year.

Responding to Black’s comments in The Times an Oxford alumnus, who is now a leading figure in the business community, broadly agreed that students could not expect the tutorial system to give them each and every skill they will need in the world of work.

They commented, “There’s a lot of truth in this comment. The Oxford system is strong on encouraging individual leadership skills, but places less emphasis on more general teamwork qualities.”

A spokesperson for Oxford University told Cherwell, “The University of Oxford surveys recruiters on an annual basis to find out why they recruit at Oxford and how Oxford students are viewed relative to other UK students. The latest survey found that a majority of employers say Oxford students rate better than other UK students on six of the eight key employability measures; in the other two (team work and business awareness) Oxford students did not score better relative to other students. This is hardly an indictment of the tutorial system – if anything, it confirms that Oxford students are highly valued by employers.

“No student is guaranteed a job simply because of the university they attend, but Oxford students are uniquely well equipped and highly successful in whatever field they choose to pursue. Oxford graduates consistently have one of the highest employment rates in the country, and the average starting salary for Oxford and Cambridge graduates exceeds that of the average university leaver by several thousand pounds.

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“Most importantly, Oxford’s tutorial system of education encourages students the ability to think independently and analytically whatever subject they study. At a time when most people will change jobs and even career paths multiple times over a lifetime, this foundation is as important as any to anyone going into the world of work.”