Graduate Fog has heard disturbing rumours that some university careers advisers are being urged to ‘sell’ postgraduate courses that are under-subscribed – regardless of whether doing them is in students’ best interests.

Several careers professionals (who have asked not to be named) have complained that colleagues in their university’s marketing department are using increasingly aggressive tactics to pressure them to urge you to sign up for postgraduate courses they know have dubious value on the jobs market.

Since most students and graduates trust that your university careers adviser is working in your best interests, the idea that some professionals could have a hidden agenda is deeply troubling.

Especially if that agenda involves convincing you to part with thousands of pounds of your money, for what could be a worthless qualification.

I’m not an expert on university funding but it’s my understanding that money worries are at the root of this problem.

As higher education institutions face huge government cuts, they are more reliant on fees from students. They need to keep their application numbers up to make sure every seat in every lecture theatre is ‘sold’.

I first heard this worrying whisper back in June when David Winter, careers adviser at The Careers Group, University of London, wrote on Graduate Fog:

“We often spend time battling against university marketing departments who try to force us into promoting masters courses that we, as careers advisers, know to be of dubious resale value to employers.”

When I said I found this a shocking admission, Winter immediately back-tracked, claiming:

“I overstated the case for dramatic effect.

“We are not being ‘forced’ to recommend inappropriate post-grad courses. As professionals, we do insist on and exercise our freedom to give independent and unbiased advice and guidance to our students.

“But we don’t always get to see the students before they have been convinced by the marketing that a post-grad course is the way forward.”

Did Winter really exaggerate for ‘dramatic effect’?

Or did he just not realise the implications of his statement until after he’d written it?

I don’t know.

And I must stress that I am not accusing ALL university marketing departments of engaging in this sort of behaviour.

Nor am I suggesting that university careers advisers are crooked.

No doubt, the vast majority of university careers advisers remain ‘clean’ – and will be furious that I am bringing this to your attention for fear that it will undermine your trust in them and put you off seeking their advice.

However, I believe this matter is too serious to be ‘hushed up’ – for any reason.

I think it would be deeply patronising to suggest that this subject be kept from you.

You are not children and you have the right to hear about and discuss the issues that could impact the careers advice you assume is independent.

After all, this is your money we’re talking about.

Even if Winter’s statement was exaggerated – and if all my sources are talking rubbish – I still think the need to protect careers advisers’ independence requires urgent discussion.


Because I fear that universities’ increased desperation to get ‘bums on seats’ could create a situation where an increasing number of university careers advisers feel pressured to ‘do the wrong thing’ in order to keep their jobs.

I have no doubt that they will fight to remain independent.

(Whatever I’ve written about them in the past, ALL careers advisers I have met have been thoroughly decent people, including David Winter, who helped to write Dude?).

However, anybody working in higher education knows that things are about to get very ugly – as the funding cuts begin to bite.

Let’s say that there are redundancies planned in a university’s careers department.

One adviser is happy to ‘play the game’, subtly promoting the institution’s postgraduate offerings, regardless of whether the course is suitable for that student or graduate.

Another adviser isn’t.

Which one do you think is more likely to get the chop?

I know I’m about to get hate mail from those in the industry who are convinced I’m just rattling their cage for the sake of it – or to drum up publicity for Graduate Fog.

But I genuinely think that if there is even the slightest threat that this practice could become widespread, we need to start talking about it NOW, before any (more?) students sign up to expensive postgraduate courses that are not as beneficial as they were led to believe by those who they trusted to give impartial advice.

And by the way, none of these stories are run to ‘drum up publicity’ for Graduate Fog.

They ARE Graduate Fog!

Not writing about this story would mean failing Graduate Fog’s users – and that bothers me far more than a few ranty emails from the careers community.

So bring it on.

*Are careers advisers really being asked to flog dodgy courses?
Students and graduates – have you ever felt a uni careers adviser was ‘selling’ you a postgrad course at your institution? Do you find this idea troubling? Careers advisers – have you ever felt pressure from your university’s marketing department to boost the number of applicants to certain under-subscribed postgraduate courses? If this isn’t happening at your uni yet, do you worry it could happen in the future?

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