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Expert Comment: League tables of graduate salaries

torevell Wednesday 25 April 2012

Dr. David Torevell, Director of the Centre for Christian Education at Liverpool Hope

I was surprised and disappointed to read that Oxford University is leading the game in compiling league tables for each college which will include, among other things, information on graduates’ salaries. Wow! Just imagine it: with a single click of your inquisitorial mouse at http://www.careers.ox.ac.uk/academics/tracking-students-careers-activity/, your curiosity will know no bounds as you discover who is at the top and who is at the bottom of the table. Poor old Wadham College right at the table’s foot - remind me never to book a room there! After all, I might end up eating breakfast with students likely to earn less than £25,000 six months after graduation. Keble is the place for me – graduates earn £35,000 within six months. I think the smoked streaky is better there too.

This is, of course, part of the government’s misguided initiative to make sure every university has ‘Key Information Sets’ which include data on contact hours, graduate salaries and student satisfaction. Steve Edwards, founder of BestCourse4me.com, an independent website that uses data to help students choose what to study, finds Oxford’s approach ‘refreshing’; while Jonathan Black, director of Oxford’s career service, claims, ‘I think we have been ahead of what the government has wanted but in line with it’.

I find this ‘it’ neither refreshing nor innovative. Such leagues tables insidiously distort the telos of learning, which is nothing less than the promotion of an intimate relationship with the good. Knowledge entails drawing close to and being changed by what is good; teaching is about helping students to discover this in imaginative ways. Universities which encourage this contemplative approach should be at the top of league tables, if they have to exist. But since I do not think league tables have anything to do with the good, I wouldn’t dream of advocating this. And even if someone tried to persuade me that there could be a league table reflecting the extent to which students discern the divine in the suffering of the prostitute, I would still say ‘no’ to its compilation.

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