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The French Ministry of Higher Education and Research released last month an analysis of information on the rate of employability (taux d’insertion professionnelle) 30 months after graduation among individuals completing master’s-level programmes. The findings—and the ranking of universities that came with it—are based on a survey conducted between December 2009 and July 2010 of 43 000 master’s graduates who completed their studies at one of 68 French universities in 2007. According to the Ministry’s analysis, the national average for employability (with “employability” defined as the proportion of those employed, in whatever capacity, compared to the proportion of those actively job-seeking among the cohort of graduates involved in the survey) was 91.4%.
The Ministry has published results by specific university, by four major areas of study (law, economics and management; humanities, language and arts; humanities and social sciences; and science, technology and health), as well as by a subset of fields within these major academic areas. In addition, the analysis looks at employment rates across four major categories of employers (public administration, private enterprise, associations and “other”), and attempts to make sense of employment in more than half a dozen key areas of economic activity, including agriculture, industry, construction, commerce, financial fields, information and communication, public administration and “other activities and services”.
Valérie Pécresse, the Minister of Higher Education and Research, has hailed the effort on a number of levels—for the valuable information it can provide to families and students; for the insight it may bring to university self-evaluation and planning; and for the advancement of the national effort to develop a fuller set of national performance indicators, as required by the 2007 Universities’ Freedoms and Responsibilities law. Critics see problems with the analysis, however. Ranking institutions based on differences of as little as one-tenth of a percentage point is problematic for some, as is the fact that other key variables—such as individual student characteristics and the state of the job market in specific regions—are not factored into the analysis. Yet again, a university ranking exercise prompts both reflection and exasperation.