Top 100 universities for graduate employability – how do they do it?

Guardian Web |

To the thousands of students across the world preparing for the next university applications cycle, employability matters more than ever. Whether these students are seeking a traditional university experience on campus and in the lecture theatre, or whether they intend to join the ever-growing contingent of distance learners, they will be keenly aware of the investment – both financial and temporal – being made.

Consequently, more – and better – data about the return on that investment is being sought. The 2017 Online Education Trends report indicates that education providers are under increasing pressure to provide meaningful outcomes data. Interestingly, 77% of surveyed schools report that students want placement/employment rates data provided on a course-by-course basis, 58% report requests for course completion rates, and nearly half are asked for information about postgraduate salaries.

The 2018 QS Graduate Employability Rankings attempts to meet this demand. It goes beyond graduate employment rates to account for the things that universities actually do.

Students can, for the first time, compare the relationships that 500 different universities foster with businesses, the number of highly-successful alumni they produce, and the number of opportunities students have to meet potential employers on campus.

Who does it best?

There is still a perception that the best way to secure high-quality employment after graduation is attending a prestigious institution. The continued presence of Stanford in the number-one position chimes with that perception. The names that immediately follow it are hardly obscure either: the University of California, Los Angeles ranks 2nd and Harvard University is in 3rd place.

However, this ranking is designed to measure far more than reputation alone. It intends to reward those universities that are proactive in providing the type of high-quality network conducive to successful employment outcomes.

It is little surprise to us at QS that two Australian universities rub shoulders with the world’s best: the University of Sydney (4th) and the University of Melbourne (7th) outrank some of the United Kingdom’s most illustrious universities. (Cambridge is 6th, and Oxford 8th). Our Reimagine Education Awards are designed to identify those universities doing most to foster innovative teaching and student employability – and Australia is perhaps the best-represented nation in the world.

Accounting for the local economy

Notably, five of the world’s top 10 universities are based in either California or Boston, Massachusetts (UCLA and Stanford are joined by the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard is joined by the perennial leader of our overall World University Rankings, MIT). Universities based in economically-healthy countries or innovation hubs like Silicon Valley will have an easier task than those where youth employment rates are low and entrepreneurship is scarce.



It is impossible to negate the effect of the local economy, and nor would we want to. But the depth of data provided means that universities are as unable to rely on location as they are on reputation. Stanford is differentiated from its peers by the extent to which it nurtures relationships with industry in its immediate milieu and cultivates student-employer connections.

Stanford is the only university of the 600 we’ve evaluated this year to receive the benchmark score for our partnerships with employers metric. Proactivity, not perception, is the differentiator.

Extraordinary alumni

Perhaps our favourite indicator is the alumni outcomes indicator. We have evaluated the educational profiles of 31,000 highly successful alumni to identify which university is responsible for the highest number of field-leading luminaries – the politicians, entrepreneurs, renowned artists and business leaders of the world.

Related: Top 200 universities in the world 2018 - the table

There are a number of strong contenders. Oxbridge are responsible for 23% of the UK’s current MP cohort, while Stanford alumni have founded 51 unicorns (startups with a market valuation of $1bn or more). However, it is Harvard – alma mater of eight US presidents, 37 unicorn founders, 48 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 48 Nobel Laureates – that leads the world for this indicator.

Global Trends

Prospective students will find universities from a diverse group of countries. Sixteen nations are represented in our top 50, including those from Chile, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. None feature in the top 50 of our overall World University Rankings. China, with five top-50 institutions, is better-represented than Australia and Canada – a consequence, perhaps, of an education system directed primarily towards career outcomes.

Germany’s success is reserved primarily for its Stem-specialist institutions, such as Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (30th) – unsurprising in a nation with a vibrant high-tech manufacturing sector and a healthy ability to adapt innovation to industry.

Yet the most interesting results are to be found at the metric-by-metric level, where Lomonosov Moscow State University matches LSE for alumni outcomes. There, we find Arizona State University to be doing more than any other US institution to foster student-employer connections.

It is this level of detail that students are demanding – and we hope that this edition of the QS Graduate Employability Rankings goes some way to providing it.

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