What are the careers information, advice and guidance needs of level 1 Computing and Communication students?

Conway, David and Weeds, Katie (2020). What are the careers information, advice and guidance needs of level 1 Computing and Communication students? In: Employability Conference 2020: expanding the narrative for a rapidly changing world, 11 Mar 2020, The Open University, Milton Keynes.


Since changes to the Higher Education (HE) funding policy by the UK government and increased student fees, a growing number of mature students are studying at university to improve their career prospects and a decreasing number are learning solely for leisure (Pollard et al 2016, Butcher and Rose-Adams 2015, Bridgstock 2009).

The Open University (OU) is a distance learning provider with approximately 170,000 students. The majority of qualifications have no formal entry requirements which makes it attractive to individuals who seek to use education as a way of changing or developing their career. Internal OU analytics concurs with this observation as it shows 77% of registered learners who study with career progression motivations wish to change or develop their existing career. This is different to a traditional ‘brick’ university where younger students typically enter the jobs market for the first time following graduation.

Another difference between ‘brick’ universities and the OU is approximately 50% of one to one careers information, advice and guidance appointments are with level 1 students (level 4 in UK Education Framework). At ‘brick’ universities the majority of one to one careers appointments are made with level 5 and level 6 students. Although limited evidence as to why this occurs exists, research indicates that it could be due to mature 1st year students having a clearer idea of career options and therefore more likely to self refer for career support than younger 1st year students (Zhu 2018).

Level 1 Computing and Communication (C&C) students are one of the highest users of one to one careers information, advice and guidance services at the OU. Improving understanding as to why one to one appointments are requested by level 1 C&C students and staff who directly refer learners may lead to improved student support and enhanced student success.

The aim of this study was to evaluate why level 1 C&C students require careers information, advice and guidance.

190 Level 1 C&C careers appointment requests between August 2018 and July 2019 were evaluated by OU Careers and Employability Services staff and thematically coded into themes using a hierarchal framework.

Results found the majority of level 1 C&C appointment requests related to qualification (33%) or module choice (12%). Furthermore, approximately 50% of service users were referred by OU staff.

This study shows that level 1 C&C learners who are referred by an OU member of staff or self refer for careers information, advice and guidance are regularly unsure if they are studying the right qualification in relation to their career goal. It may also demonstrate that mature students may not be as likely to self refer for careers support as previously thought.

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