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What does it take to be a career-boosting university?

Graduate employability
Graduates discuss which employers to speak to at the New Jersey Collegiate Career Fair. Source: Chris McGrath/AFP

Graduate employability is a phrase often bandied about today. But what does it really mean?

The 2020 QS Graduate Employability Rankings offer to shed some light for prospective university students. The global higher education think-tank Quacquarelli Symonds, or QS, attempts to define this through five indicators:

1. Employer reputation
This metric is based on the QS Employer Survey findings. The largest of its kind globally, the survey asks employers to identify the institutions from which they source the most competent, innovative and effective graduates.

2. Alumni outcomes

A university’s track record in producing successful alumni is measured through 220 high-achiever lists – analysing “40,000 of the world’s most innovative, creative, wealthy, entrepreneurial, and/or philanthropic individuals” and seeing which universities are producing these individuals. More weighting is given on more contemporary success stories and undergraduate degrees.

3. Partnership with employers per faculty

This looks at business-university collaborations that led to “citable, transformative research”, as well as work placement-related partnerships.

4. Employer/Student Connections

Were there opportunities to network and obtain information? Were there career fairs, company presentations and other promotional activities? The more there were,  the more “actively present” these employer-student connections are. This is measured because such presence increases students’ chances of getting internships and research opportunities that could launch their careers.

5. Graduate employment rate

QS measured the proportion of graduates in full- or part-time employment within 12 months of graduation (excluding those opting to pursue further study or unavailable to work). This is then adjusted depending on other institutions’ rates and the average in the country where they are based.

So which universities do best according to these metrics?

In first place is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), followed by Stanford University and the University of California at Los Angeles.

“MIT retains the dual honour of being both world number-one in QS’s overall exercise, and the world number-one for employability,” QS said in a press release.

2020 rank 2019 rank 2020 QSWUR Institution Location
1 1 1 MIT US
2 2 2 Stanford University US
3 2 35= UCLA US
4 5 42 The University of Sydney AU
5 4 3 Harvard University US
6 9 16 Tsinghua University Mainland China
7 6 38 The University of Melbourne AU
8 7 7 University of Cambridge UK
9 13 25= University of Hong Kong (HKU) Hong Kong
10 10 4 University of Oxford UK

The top 20 is dominated by universities in the US, UK and Europe. In Continental Europe, Switzerland’s ETH Zurich is the highest-ranked at 17th spot, while in the UK, Cambridge and Oxford are ranked in 8th and 10th spot respectively.


But what makes this year’s edition stand out is its significant disparities between these results and the QS World University Rankings (QSWUR).

QS commented: “In particular, Asia’s top universities outperform continental Europe’s leading institutions. The rankings therefore demonstrate that there is no perfect parallel between an outstanding reputational and research university, and an outstanding nurturer of student career outcomes.”

This is led by Mainland China’s Tsinghua University in 6th place, followed by the University of Hong Kong (9th), Peking University (19th), the University of Tokyo (23rd) and National University of Singapore (24th).

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