Resolution of the 11th General Meeting of 22 November 2011
The term ‘career services’ refers to agencies within higher education that provide an interface between universities and the employment system. They form part of the organisation of every university and are among the bodies tasked with making departments and faculties more practice oriented. Career services can add value to the work that is being done in this area, provided that rectors and presidents take them into account when setting the strategic course for higher education and equip them with the appropriate financial and staff resources.
Career services assist departments and faculties through a variety of means to prepare their students for the transition to employment and serve as a point of contact for businesses. Since the start of the Bologna Process, more and more universities have established career centres to offer students vocational guidance; there are now around 100 such facilities in universities.
University’s desire to equip graduates adequately for the labour market, as well as the policy objective of having 40 per cent of each year group enter higher education, have led to universities taking on even greater responsibility for their graduates’ success in starting a career. This requires intensive engagement with strategies to develop, communicate and maintain employability. Furthermore, against the background of the Bologna reform, which sets ‘employability’ as an educational objective, the successful entry of graduates into the labour market is likely to become one of the key criteria for quality assessment of universities. That being the case, institutionalised provision of advice and assistance in the form of ‘Career Services’ (career centres or similar) to complement practically orientated teaching should be seen as a genuine responsibility of universities.
The availability and development of career services are to be considered quality indicators for universities and are to be optimised. This presents universities with an opportunity to develop their career service as a unique feature and to set themselves apart from other universities through the programmes that it offers. This requires recognition of the potential benefits associated with a career service facility, its structural integration into the university and provision of adequate staff and financial resources.
An institutionally based, professionally orientated student and careers advisory service consists of the following pillars: strengthening the practical application of university education; imparting skills relevant to the labour market; and supporting students through the transition to work, including academic careers. These three pillars have taken on even greater importance in the course of the Bologna Process and have been modified and/or reinforced, for instance, in a range of different models of career services. Moreover, changes within the world of work make it imperative that job skills are kept up-to-date through lifelong learning, which means that career services will have a role to play within the framework of the continuing education programmes offered by universities. It is also important to bear in mind that, increasingly, graduates are planning their professional futures abroad, both in Europe and further afield. Career services must provide them with concrete assistance in this area, covering the normal procedures for testing and recruitment internationally. Increasingly, international students at German universities are also seeking advice on career possibilities in Germany. Career services should therefore make provision for this target group as well.
Against this background, the following areas of activity can be identified:
1) Information and advice
Career Services work at the interface between higher education and work. Students are to receive guidance when planning their professional future, including a possible academic career. Support in setting career goals can take many different forms, including both individual counselling/coaching and co-operative projects. The latter are aimed primarily at particular faculties and/or departments but may also involve advice and human resource development services. Mentoring programmes provided in conjunction with alumni have proved particularly successful.
Active support for student initiatives is recommended to ensure that the target groups’ interests are taken fully into account.
A special advice service is needed for students who are approaching the end of their courses, to prepare graduates for the transition to work. This support should include both general services (for example, job application training, checklists for applications, best practice advice on presentation of CVs) and individual assistance (personal counselling, CV checking, coaching). Enhanced services – e.g. tips on career planning and salary negotiations – could be made available to graduates from continuing education or postgraduate programmes.
2) Improved interchange between teaching and the world of work Career services are to extend existing contacts between teaching and the world of work and to strengthen the practical relevance of degree programmes. In addition, it may be useful to establish advisory committees comprising representatives from businesses, partner institutions, associations and employment services/agencies.
For all the differences between universities as regards substantive focus and organisational structure, there is always a need to ensure that central agencies with a key role in shaping a university’s external image are positioned and resourced appropriately, in keeping with their importance. If the work of a career service is to be successful, it must be given sufficient financial and personnel resources, based on the situation of the university concerned. Its work should be funded from the university’s general budgetary resources, to ensure that the career service is not reliant on income that may be anticipated from its activities in specific areas, such as job fairs and exchanges, or on money from sponsors in order to perform the tasks assigned to it. This is the only way of guaranteeing in the long term that a career service’s work is independent of external interests and substantively focused on the interests of students and their university. Fundraising may be included in the career service’s sphere of responsibility, depending on its particular focus and structure. However, it is imperative that the two tasks are closely interlinked.
A solid financial base is also crucial if the career service is to co- operate successfully with third parties. Only a strong,
well-resourced career service that is firmly embedded in the structure of the university can co-operate with external partners in a way that ensures that the interests of the university and its students are adequately taken into account. The guiding principle behind such partnerships is that they should always be beneficial in terms of helping students find a career. The career service is to take on businesses as partners only when they approach the university for the purpose of recruiting staff. Partnerships informed solely by a desire to acquire students as customers for products and services are not consistent with the career service’s terms of reference. Such co-operation should be free from advertising and independent of the corporate purpose of the business involved.
The career service is a service provided by the university for its students. It should be publicised in those terms – and as a high priority – within the institution. Provision of comprehensive, easily accessible information on the internet and in the form of brochures, posters and flyers is essential to ensuring that students are aware and make use of the service. However, the career service is also the proper point of contact for businesses that are seeking to recruit outstanding graduates.
Ensuring that the career service’s work is of high quality is a responsibility of university management, to be achieved through the appointment of qualified staff. Inviting external speakers as guests is an important part of the career service’s programme, but such speakers must meet quality criteria set by the university. They should be qualified specialists in their area. Generally, many years of professional experience in the area they plan to speak about and independence of third-party interests will be such quality criteria, with a view to promoting the transfer of practical skills.
V. Potential Benefits
In future, the reputations of universities will increasingly feed off the professional success of their graduates. When graduates are successful in finding careers, this not only leads to higher application figures in the competition for the best students, it also provides the foundation for a good relationship between former students and their alma mater. Graduates who received advice and support during the course of their studies are likely to be more involved in alumni associations and to provide various kinds of support to their alma mater. As outlined above, these alumni networks can enrich the work of a career service in crucial ways. The acquisition of key skills, up-to-date job market information and good contacts to potential employers facilitates the transition to employment for students when they graduate. If universities are to offer these services, they must be well informed about what companies are looking for in those entering the workforce. This requires there to be strategic communication between universities and business. Professional contact management of this kind can also provide the impetus for reform of teaching and course structures. Career services should become an established part of contact management, so that they can assist departments and faculties within their universities in developing and reforming degree programmes e.g. through the inclusion of practical components with applicability across the disciplines.