How can one use the individual data collected by government agencies to help current and prospective students in their career choices and to support higher education institutions and businesses in strategic decisions? How can one monitor the economic tracejtories of higher education graduates without spending a fortune? The answer is brought by ELA, i.e. the Polish Graduate Tracking System.
ELA (an acronym coined from the Polish name) is the most innovative system of its kind in Europe. It uses data from the POL-on system (e.g. on the education of university graduates) and from ZUS, the Polish Social Insurance Institution (on the labour market situation of graduates: employment, unemployment, wages). This enables a comprehensive assessment of the economic trajectories of graduates on the labour market, without any significant expenditures. ELA performs such analysis automatically.
The development of ELA was driven by need to provide a reliable answer to the question of how the high number of higher education graduates and students actually fares on the labour market. Fact-based verification of the existing stereotypical opinions was needed. The creators of ELA were motivated by the belief that the administrative records maintained by government agencies can be used as a source of analytical data to support policy makers, entrepreneurs, and ordinary citizens in their decisions. ELA shows taxpayers and all citizens that data reliably collected by government agencies can be used in a secure way, for the benefit of society.
The work on the system started in 2010. At that time, Ministerstwo Edukacji i Nauki required that each university should independently monitor the fate of its graduates. The idea of creating a unified system of graduate tracking based on administrative data was put forward by researchers from the Educational Research Institute (IBE) and the University of Warsaw. They convinced policy-makers to adopt this new, cost-effective solution that would ensure comparability of results. In 2014, a new amendment to the Law on Higher Education was introduced. On this basis, the originators of ELA together with the team from the National Information Processing Institute (OPI PIB) launched ELA in 2016.
To date, the results of three waves of monitoring (graduates of 2014, 2015 and 2016) have been published, covering more than one million graduates. ELA is constantly improved at OPI PIB by its authors. As a result, Poland remains ahead of other countries, which are learning from the Polish experts how to conduct such large-scale research in an efficient, secure and reliable manner. ELA is also an export product: today, Polish scholars train scientists from other countries on how to conduct such monitoring studies and develop similar systems.
The aim of ELA is to provide the broad public with reliable information on the situation of various groups of graduates in the labour market presented in interesting form. ELA enables comparisons across different fields of study and universities. Automatic reports and visualisations are precise and easy to understand for various audiences.
ELA provides information on time needed to find a job, the risk of unemployment, job stability and, last but not least, salaries. The results are reported in a way that takes into account the the wide economic disparities between regions in Poland. The creators of ELA have developed innovative relative indicators, which enable comparability of graduates’ situation on significantly different local labour markets.
The capabilities of ELA have been greatly expanded thanks to the new Law on Higher Education and Science, called Constitution for Science. According to its new provisions, monitoring will help to track the links between work activity and studying, and between professional and academic activity. Apart from graduates, the monitoring will also cover students, doctoral students and PhD degree holders.
With ELA, current and prospective students can make more informed decisions about their education and take measures to improve their employability. Thanks to precise diagnosis, university authorities and curricula designers can effectively adapt those curricula to the needs of the labour market. Ministerstwo Edukacji i Nauki uses ELA as a tool to evaluate its current activities, in particular those implemented under the new law. ELA helps to pinpoint problems at the interface between higher education and the labour market, thus facilitating educational policy planning.
From the perspective of entrepreneurs and employers, ELA is primarily a tool to assess the quality of potential employees. It helps them to determine the competitiveness of graduates of various fields of study, understood as their effectiveness on the local labour market. The aforementioned relative indices measure earnability and unemployability. Moreover, ELA provides information on the actual salaries earned by specific groups of graduates (e.g. defined by fields of study, universities, or disciplines), thus helping organisations to structure their pay spines.
The knowledge generated by ELA has created additional opportunities for dialogue between employers and employees, and between the education market and the labour market. Moreover, this dialogue is based on reliable and comparable data.