Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Why Project Management, Why Now?

Over the last few years (2010-2015) the number of students enrolled on higher education courses in the UK (from certificates through to PhD’s) is consistently in the range of 2.25 to 2.5 million1.  Around 300,000 of these each year are graduates completing a first degree.  Large numbers of students graduate each year in subjects such as Business and Admin, Creative Arts & Design, Social Studies, Sciences and Medicine.  Some subject areas have very strong subject related employment figures following graduation, medicine, dentistry and veterinary studies for example as well as nursing and education.  In other subject areas the number of students in employment following their graduation levels out around 70%.  The majority of these graduates however are employed in a subject area that is not linked directly to their degree.   Several crude conclusions could be drawn from these figures:

  • Universities are not offering courses that match the job vacancies on offer from the majority of employers, the right courses are not available for students to choose
  • The right courses are available but students choose to study other subjects, perhaps based on interest or ability
  • Employers are not looking for subject specific graduate knowledge but the right person to fit into their organisation, the degree itself is largely incidental
Project Management is a role which is seeing global increases in demand. The Telegraph published a short article back in 2014 listing 10 good reasons to become a Project Manager3, with demand, money and prospects featuring at the top of the list.  The UK National Careers Service4 identifies project management as a growing area of demand and one in which employers report a skills shortage. The Project Management Institute2 report that global demand for Project Managers is very high and showing signs of growth, the average salary (US $) varies from country to country but is also strong.

What do UK Universities offer in Project Management?

At present there are very few undergraduate programmes in the subject area of Project Management despite there being a huge demand for skilled workers.  Project Managers are traditionally sourced from existing staff in IT development teams, construction professionals or engineers for example with additional training in project management tools and techniques being provided for a lucky few individuals, the rest have to pick it up as best they can.  Currently there are very few undergraduate programmes in Project Management on offer but this is beginning to change.  A quick search on UCAS reveals that several institutions offer project management as a stream or pathway in construction courses but only 3 institutions offer courses specifically in project management (Leeds Beckett University, Blackpool and Fylde College and the University of Cumbria). 

At present it seems that the UK HE sector seems to view project management in the context of only construction, what about IT projects, Engineering projects, business restructuring projects, new product development projects and every other project related activity that businesses engage in?  On this evidence it does seem to be the case that Universities are failing to meet the demands of employers and are not providing courses that match areas of skills shortage or high demand.

On the bright side

The three institutions that offer Project Management as a subject in its own right include in their programmes the tools and techniques of project management itself but also include some personal and professional skills (communication skills, dealing with people, managing conflict for example) and business and finance skills to ensure that graduates understand the context within which projects are set in organisations.  This mix of subject areas reflects the broader understanding of projects and their management that exists in businesses today and also reflects the range of skills that project managers need to have if they are to be successful.  These programmes will prepare graduates with a broad and relevant skill set making the task a finding a job easier and finding a job in the subject area related to their first degree quite likely.


Studying Project Management at University makes a lot of sense, it is a varied subject utilising case studies and examples from many different industries, the job prospects are very good and salary expectations and career progression opportunities are also very strong.  The range of options for university applicants are currently limited and concentrated in the North of England, this might change in the near future with the government push towards higher and degree apprenticeships. For more information on the courses on offer at the University of Cumbria in Project Management check out the information at http://www.cumbria.ac.uk/projectmanagement

Links to data and information sources

1 Higher Education Statistics Agency, https://www.hesa.ac.uk/

3 The Telegraph, https://courses.telegraph.co.uk/article-details/2/why-become-a-project-manager/
4 National Careers Service, https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/projectmanager.aspx