Rising tuition fees (particularly for international students), increasingly competitive marketplaces, decreasing public funding and changing demands for skills are trends that have conspired to ensure that the quality of higher education is now perceived through the lens of employability.
A degree now has to offer value for money. Few parents are happy to support their child during a tertiary education sought for its own sake, or as a basis for self-development.
They are merely interested in what opportunities a particular course or institution will help create.
Highly selective universities now sell themselves on their links with industry and their ability to impart a diverse range of highly sought and marketable skills. The recent Global University Employability Survey, published in Times Higher Education, aimed to assess how well universities are preparing students for employment in the digital age.
The survey ranked universities based on the perceptions of both national and international companies about the employability of their graduates. Survey respondents, from a range of firms and industries, were also asked a host of questions about the skills that they believe graduates need if they are to adapt to the digital revolution, and which countries and institutions they feel are best preparing students for it.
Unsurprisingly, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) took the top spot, one of seven US colleges in the top ten, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University (not least because of its strong links with silicone valley).
More traditional universities have seen themselves slipping further down the rankings, with the University of Cambridge slipping to fifth place and the University of Oxford to fifteenth place.
Other desirable destinations, including the Technical University of Munich and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) came in at eighth and twelfth place respectively. Other impressive performers included the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and University College London (UCL).
Amongst the areas of expertise employers stated as the most desirable and currently unrepresented were AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning, data engineering and data warehousing, HR talent management, network and information security, statistical analysis and data mining.
Other characteristics employers found impressive included communication and problem solving skills, critical thinking, initiative, collaboration, creativity, emotional intelligence, empathy, resilience, curiosity, social and cultural awareness and leadership.
Those countries seen to be preparing for a digital future most successfully were the US, Japan, China, Germany, the UK, India, South Korea, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.
However, when it came to links with companies, Switzerland led the way, with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (EHT Zurich) and the University of Basel topping the leader board, with Imperial College London a close third.
For more information, check out the survey in full on the Times Higher Education website (www.timeshighereducation.com).
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