Graduate tracer studies

Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon

Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon

COMING across some notes I had from a lecture by Herr Ulrich Teichler on global influences in higher education while at Kassel Universitat, I was drawn to review his other works. This time, on tracer studies.

Through the initiative of our tutors at Kassel, Institute for Socio-Cultural Studies (ISOS) Director Prof. Dr. Michael Fremerey and Dr. Siawuch Amini, we, Kassel Universitat alumni in the Philippines, were fortunate to have Herr Teichler for a one-week in-country training on tracer studies, sponsored by the Deutscher Akademischer AustauschDienst (DAAD) or German Academic Exchange Service, an independent organization of German higher education institutions said to be the world’s largest academic public funding.

Twice as a DAAD fellow, I experienced its generous provision for local and international airfares, study visits, summer and short term sessions, health and travel insurance, hotel and food, books/instructional materials. Similarly, while at Kassel U for an earlier fellowship, the then German Foundation for International Development (DSE) included an allowance for photocopy since wifi was unavailable in several of the home countries. Each year, DAAD through its “Regional Branch Offices, Information Centres and DAAD professors world-wide provide information and financial support to over 120,000 students and faculty for international research and study.”

With such generous sponsorship, we alumni did not have difficulty with budgets to be in Manila and avail of Herr Teichler’s one week training on graduate tracer studies. References given us included a copy of Herr Harald Schomburg’s “Guidelines for Tracer Studies,” which I have widely shared with colleagues.

What are graduate tracer studies? These are surveys mostly used by higher education institutions (HEI’s) to follow up on their graduates; find out what they are doing in so far as the education and training they have received from their alma mater. These surveys are written, and are usually sent online to a random sample after one to two years of the alumni’s graduation from the institution.

“Common topics in tracer studies include questions on study progress, the transition to work, work entrance, job career, use of learned competencies and current occupation” <›UNAM Foundation>, sustaining the quality of service to society as expressed by their vision, mission and goals.

Since market forces dictate the kind of competencies needed by labor, universities have to be forward looking to introduce and manage desirable change. Graduate tracer studies are one reliable tool for universities to determine the quality, the extent of functionality of the services they deliver to their graduates. They provide a sound basis for intentional improvement of both content (curricula and related activities) and delivery of their educational services such as teaching and learning. A university’s best features are its best advertisement. Properly designed and conducted tracer studies provide information on the extent to which the institution’s vision, mission and goals, the program objectives and student learning outcomes (SLO’s) have been realized.

When and what information should graduate tracer studies yield? They are usually conducted on a cohort of graduates after a year or two to help find out what has happened to the graduates after completing their studies, whether or not they are employed, how long did it take them to land a job, or whether they are still hunting for a job, whether their job is in line with the knowledge and skills they learned during their studies, how well they are doing in their job and whether or not they have found a niche in their career. In addition, the tracer study could inquire what conceptual and technical knowledge learned during education and training proved most relevant in their respective work settings, what components in the content and delivery of services are effective and ineffective. Tracer studies could also draw recommendations from the perspective of the respondents. <>

More tips on graduate tracer studies. Survey questions, Herr Teichler emphasized, should be short and clear. A manual on tracer studies issued by Helvetas, a Swiss Association for International Cooperation gives a similar advice. Although the manual refers to vocational training, nevertheless this advice is worth considering: “effective tracer studies (utilize) short questionnaires with clear questions, ask for recommendations and use both quantitative and qualitative questions. Tracer studies are most effective when the samples are random and include annual data collection.”

Herr Schomburg’s “Guidelines on Tracer Studies,” given us during our workshop with Herr Teichler, recommends to include four dimensions in a survey. One, “pre-requisites of study which need to be controlled in order not to falsely attribute certain output to the university.” An example is the pre-university background of the graduate-respondents. A gifted student may excel, regardless of teachers. Two, “resources, basic conditions, responsibilities, etc. of the university.” These refer to important prerequisites for teaching and learning processes, among which are “the spatial conditions of the university, the equipment in libraries and laboratories, the number of students per academic/teaching staff, scientific reputation of the teaching staff,” (other teaching-learning facilities). Three,“processes” within the university — teaching and learning methods and activities, student advising, students’ research participation, etc. Four, “outputs or outcomes” — “competencies, professional success, relevance to society, etc.” Capturing evaluation and recommendations of graduates on these dimensions borne from a well-formulated methodology and a well-conducted tracer study provide a good measure of “the quality of the graduates’ university education as well as educational success.” It could indeed be a reliable basis for institutional improvement.

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Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, PhD, one of the Philippines’ most accomplished educators and institutional management experts, heldtop academic positions at Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan) before heading chartered institutions. She studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Great Britain and Japan. An internationalization consultant on call, she is copy editor of the Liceo journals, and professorial lecturer at the Graduate Studies of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro City). Awards include a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the Commission on Higher Education.


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