University of Exeter’s Q-Step centre helping to plug shortages of graduates able to analyse data, evaluation shows

Students who take Q-Step quantitative skills modules during social science degrees have better earning potential than students on similar courses.

The University of Exeter’s Q-Step centre is helping to tackle the national shortage of graduates with the skills to use data to better understand society, an evaluation shows.

The centre is also addressing the lack of graduates with the skills to apply quantitative methods in both research and professional settings.

An independent evaluation shows that students who take Q-Step quantitative skills modules during their social science degrees have better earning potential than students on similar courses.

Researchers at the University of Exeter’s Q-Step Centre are leading research into Incel culture online, populist politics in Europe, the role of the media, immigration and national identity on Brexit, the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs, evidence-led policing and the role of the media in the 2015 General Election.

Courses run via the Q-Step centre include undergraduate degrees in politics and international relations, criminology and sociology, postgraduate degrees in applied social data science and advance quantitative methods in social sciences.

Also run from the centre are Proficiency in Applied Data Analysis (PADA) courses, which are open to all Exeter students interested in quantitative methods but not enrolled in a Q-Step BSc programme, and workshops in Applied Data Analysis, also open to all Exeter students.

Professor Susan Banducci, Director of the Exeter Q Step Centre, said: “It has been amazing to watch the confidence of students grow as they have progressed through their Q-Step degrees. Many students start the programme without much experience in data or programming and they leave confident with data, statistics and programming and ready to take on the world.”

Q-Step centres began to be established nationally after 2013 as a strategic response to the shortage of graduates with the right skills for careers in research and other data-led professions. The programme operates in 17 universities and was developed by the Nuffield Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation with a total initial investment of £19.5 million.

The Nuffield Foundation commissioned Technopolis to conduct an independent evaluation of Q-Step centres around the UK between 2017 and 2021.

The evaluation shows participation in Q-Step modules is associated with better employment prospects for students compared to similar students on equivalent courses. Q-Step students are more likely to earn over £25k and be in highly skilled employment 15 months after graduation.

Q-Step students expressed high levels of satisfaction with their experience. The evaluation also found that Q-Step has increased quantitative teaching capacity and had a positive impact across participating institutions, particularly those with less established traditions of quantitative social science teaching.

Q-Step funding ended in September 2021, but participating universities are committed to sustaining the Centres for at least a further three years and the evaluation highlights that many have already embedded the good practice developed through the initiative within their business-as-usual activities. This bodes well for Q-Step Centres to play a useful role in local and regional skills strategies.

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