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Let's talk employability

23 november 2023 | full article
Graduate Skills and Schools

The Skills and Schools Global Employers Prefer When Hiring University Graduates, According to the Geurs 2024

As higher education strives to prepare its graduates for an increasingly global and technologically sophisticated modern workplace, the 2023-24 Global Employability University Ranking and Survey (GEURS) provides a wealth of insights into which skills employers are looking for in first-time employees as well as a list of the Top 250 universities that employers feel best prepare students for their first jobs.

The GEURS, conducted annually by Emerging, is the only ranking to reveal the world’s Top 250 universities for producing employable graduates. It is based exclusively on the opinions of international employers and only accepts votes from qualified managers who manage or recruit at least five new graduates per year.  An independent survey, the GEURS uses a methodology that synthesises employers’ assessment, knowledge and expectations of new graduates and universities worldwide. First released in 2010, the GEURS is the employability ranking consulted most by employers worldwide.

The 2024 GEURS derives its analysis from 100,700 votes from 11,560 operational and international managers, i.e, human resources staff and the managers of first-time employees, in 21 countries. The employers canvassed for this year’s ranking are responsible for hiring 800,000 new graduates in  2023-2024. It is published this year in conjunction with the Times Higher Education (THE).

2024’s results show that well-known trends in post-graduation employability continue to be priorities for employers while, at the same time, employers’ expectations for new university graduates are changing with broader, prevailing trends as Generation Z enters the workforce.

“The data behind the ranking provides some absolutely fascinating nuggets about the shifting sands in global higher education regarding graduates’ employability,” says Sandrine Belloc, Emerging’s Managing Partner.

Read on for deeper analysis of this year’s survey and ranking results.

The skills employers look for in university graduates

Of the six key employability drivers — specialisation, graduate skills, academic performance, focus on work expertise, social impact and leadership, and internationality — specialisation proved to be the most important to international employers as they consider hiring recent graduates. Graduate skills, e.g., digital skills, ranked as the next most important for university graduates seeking their first jobs

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) specialisation and digital skills were particularly important to the employers surveyed in the 2024 GEURS. Employers in most countries said that it was crucial that students develop transferable tech skills and work with the latest technologies during their university experience. Employers also indicated that they want new hires to have benefited from professors’ cutting-edge research and learned from curricula updated based on industry trends.

Global employers’ interest in STEM and IT skills is also demonstrated in the Top 250 university ranking, where the first two positions are taken up by tech schools: California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which tops the ranking, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in second place. In addition, 40 percent of the top 50 positions of the ranking are taken up by tech schools.

However, this year’s results also show that employers are increasingly looking for university graduates that can demonstrate social impact and leadership skills — which may suit many graduates from Generation Z, who are known for their passionate political activism, particularly around the issue of climate change. According to the survey results, employers want graduates who will be more involved in society, can transform organisations and thereby grow their country’s economy. These qualities are particularly sought from graduates from Brazil, India, China and South Africa (which comprise, with Russia, the BRICS countries) and also appear as a top five requirement for all countries in the survey, and also those studying business, engineering and IT.

“The research shows the key skills employers are increasingly looking for and this year it’s fascinating to see social impact and leadership is the key skill they’re looking for,” said Seeta Bhardwa, editor of THEStudent. “It shows how employers want graduates that can make a significant contribution not only to their company but also to the wider community and the country too.”

In addition to the desire for specialisation and interest in social impact and leadership, employers expressed interest in university graduates who have well-developed soft skills. This was particularly true among employers in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Indonesia, all of whom ranked transferable soft skills as one of the most five important criteria for recent graduate employability.

“The ability to work in a team as well as a cooperative spirit are highly prized by employers in all countries, which are skills consistent with the collaborative and socially engaged mindset linked to the social impact and leadership skill,” notes Sandrine Belloc.

Among sought-after skills, the ability to work in a team was especially in demand. Employers from all 21 countries rank this capability as one of the top five most important skills for young people looking to obtain their first job after university. Employers also said that they look for graduates who have good time management skills, inspire trust and possess superior logical reasoning abilities.

Interestingly, employers in most countries suggested that they did not expect universities to enhance the internationality of recent graduates and that internationality was not a key driver for the hiring of new graduates. Many employers do not see university programs involving intercultural learning and international collaborations as important, and they rate compulsory study abroad programs and compulsory internship abroad programs as among the least important factors when considering a potential new hire.

Employers said that creativity, coping with uncertainty, autonomy, understanding bias and storytelling and public speaking were among the skills they least expect from new graduates in their first jobs. Recent graduates’ storytelling and public speaking skills ranked particularly poorly, placing as one of the five least important skills according to employers in 20 of the 21 countries surveyed. While employers’ sentiments about less important first job skills were largely uniform, notable outliers include French employers, who ranked autonomy as one of the five most important skills for recent graduates, and Indian employers, who felt empowering others was a top-five skill for their new hires.

The Top 250 universities for employability worldwide

This year’s results show that employers’ regard for universities has continued to globalise. The 2024 Top 250 ranking features universities from 44 countries on six continents as employers’ opinions of which universities produce the most employable graduates increasingly diversify. This trend is also visible looking at the inverse — over the past 10 years US and UK universities have fallen from occupying more than 58 percent of Top 250 rankings in 2013 to just 27.5 percent today.

The best universities for employability in asia

Asia has 49 institutions in the Top 250, five more than last year which represents the largest continental increase. China, Japan and South Korea ranked amongthe top 10 countries with the most universities highly regarded by employers, with each country being home to 13, nine and seven top universities, respectively. Furthermore, three Asian universities placed in the top 20: the University of Tokyo in Japan ranking 7th, National University of Singapore ranking 9th and Peking University in China ranking 14th.

Nonetheless, China and India were the only Asian countries to show significant progress in the rankings. “Most notable this year are the significant improvements in higher education employability in India, which we should look out for over the upcoming years as all indicators show it improving at a rapid rate,” Emerging’s Belloc notes. “The data also indicates Chinese universities are set to increase their presence even further, with at least one university reaching the top 10 in the next few years.”

Chinese universities are continuing to climb up and consolidate their position in the top echelons of the ranking with Peking University knocking on the door of a top 10 place (14th) and Tsinghua University (21th) also in the top 30. Indian universities, which in past annual rankings have been under-represented given the country’s size and population, are now making steady progress and the increase in the number of votes they received this year is significant. Universities from Asia that dropped down due to the pandemic are recovering this year and are climbing backup the table which is most evident in Hong Kong, as well as Japan.

The best universities for employability in the united states

While trends show that the universities held in the highest esteem by employers are diversifying geographically, America’s premier STEM and Ivy League universities are still considered the best in the world, occupying six of the top 10 positions in the Top 250 ranking. Other large research US universities, particularly those specialising in digital and STEM subjects, also ranked highly. Columbia University (16th), New York University (17th), University of California-Berkeley (20th) and Boston University (25th) all ranked in the top decile.  

Top 10 universities in GEURS 2024

Nonetheless, in the aggregate the country’s universities are continuing to lose ground, as they have for the last five years, to the rest of the world. This year American universities occupy 50 places in the Top 250 ranking compared to 56 last year and 91 in 2013.  “The panorama of US universities in the ranking has changed considerably over the last 10 years on the topic of employability but the number and quality of US universities is still high and every year we can observe the ability of some universities to bounce back spectacularly,” notes Belloc.

The best universities for employability in europe

European universities, particularly those in Western Europe, continued to rank well for graduate employability. Three universities in the UK—Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College London—took places in the top 20. A further four European universities—Technical University of Munich (Germany), ETH Zurich (Switzerland), IE University (Spain) and Centrale Supélec -Paris-Saclay University (France)—also ranked in the top 20.

Looking at Europe on a country-by-country basis, France, Germany, and the UK universities were best represented on the list, with 19 universities listed for both France and Germany and only 13 for the UK, a notable shift from past rankings. “In Europe, I’d like to draw attention on the number of votes cast for German universities which places Germany in third place, replacing the UK, whose higher education has seen a marked decline since Brexit,” Belloc comments.

Top 10 countries in GEURS 2024

Other European countries that topped the rankings include Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Italy, all of which are home to six or more top universities according to the employers surveyed. Spain’s place in the rankings was particularly notable. Today, the country is home to eight Top 250 universities, whereas only three of its universities made the rankings in 2013. “I suggest keeping a close look at Spanish higher education, with a growing number of world-class institutions in the ranking,” notes Belloc.

While most regions in Europe were well represented among the rankings, there was a notable lack of universities from Central and Eastern Europe. Charles University of Prague in the Czech Republic, ranked 211th, was the only university from a former Communist state to make the Top 250.

The Best Universities for Employability in the MENA Region and Central and South America

Universities from Middle East North Africa (MENA) countries have gone from having no representatives in 2011 to steadily expanding to 12 and are consolidating their position in the ranking this year. Universities from Israel, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Lebanon, Morocco and Egypt all made the Top 250 this year, with the highest-ranking universities in the region being Technion - Israel Institute of Technology (40th), Hebrew University of Jerusalem (69th), Tel Aviv University (90th), and Qatar University (151th).

In Central and South America, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile were the countries whose universities made the Top 250 list, with Mexico home to three universities, Brazil and Argentina to two each and Chile to one. Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico ranked the highest in the region at 81st and University of São Paulo in Brazil the next highest at 103rd.

Universities That Performed Particularly Well (or Poorly) in This Year’s Top 250 Rankings

Overall, there are 19 new entrants this year compared with last year. New entrants include three universities from the United States (Washington University of Saint Louis, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), two from Germany (University of Bonn and University of Freiburg), two from India (Indian Institute of Technology Madras and Delhi University) and two from China (Beijing Normal University and Wuhan University). Other universities that made the Top 250 this year but were not featured last year are Toronto Metropolitan University (Canada), Université Grenoble Alpes (France), National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (Greece), Universitas Indonesia (Indonesia), University of Milan (Italy), Tohoku University (Japan), Hassan 2 University of Casablanca (Morocco), University of Lisbon (Portugal), University of Cape Town(South Africa) and University of Barcelona (Spain). Most new entrants ranked in the last quintile of the ranking; however, Toronto Metropolitan University and Beijing Normal University placed in the fourth quintile at 195th and 198th, respectively.

Universities that experienced significant improvements in the ranking include University of Chicago which moved up 41 places to 49th, Zhejiang University which moved up 24 places to 88th, Dartmouth College which moved up 14 places to 60th and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay which moved up 10 places to 62nd.

Five universities in the Top 250 experienced year-over-year falls in the ranking larger than 15 places. The largest declines were experienced by Brandeis University in the U.S., which dropped 32 places to 243rd; University of Birmingham in the UK, which dropped 23 places to 180th; and Leibniz University Hannover in Germany, which dropped 21 places to 222th. Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay - Paris-Saclay University in France and Michigan State University in the U.S. both dropped 15 places, ranking this year at 74th and 145th, respectively.