22 SES 04 D, Student Transitions and Graduate Employability
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in most European countries in the numbers of students entering higher education (HE) and of graduates in the labour market. This has partly resulted from the implementation of the ‘Bologna process’ as a core element of the Lisbon Agenda, which aimed to make the European Union “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” (European Commission, 2000). In fact, it has been argued (e.g. Keeley, 2007) that a highly educated workforce is needed for a nation to be successful in a global economy. At the same time, widening participation in HE has been seen as an issue of critical importance, as a result of widespread concerns about social justice and social mobility. Internationally, the under-representation of certain groups in HE has been regarded not only as unjust but also as a major contributor to a skills deficit which hinders economic growth (Bougeois, 2001).
Therefore, to ensure the fairness on entry and success in HE, countries around the world tried to develop effective approaches to widening participation (see, for example, Bowes et al. (2013) for a review of such approaches in the Netherlands, the United States, Australia, South Africa, Norway and Ireland). However, disadvantaged and non-traditional students were and continue to be under-represented in HE, and particularly in the more prestigious institutions and courses. Recent transnational research commissioned by the Higher Education Founding Council for England (Bowes et al., 2013) points to institutional representation being unequal across socio-economic groups in the HE systems of countries such as the Netherlands, the United States or Ireland. In particular, students from lower socio-economic groups (who normally show lower educational attainment) are less likely than those from higher socio-economic groups to attend highly selective institutions, and more likely to attend ‘low-ranked’ universities. In the United Kingdom, Chowdry et al. (2013) showed that these differences in HE participation were mainly due to the fact that learners from lower socio-economic groups do not achieve as highly in secondary school as their more advantaged counterparts. Other research (OECD, 2012) supported this finding across OECD countries, highlighting that students’ social circumstances are obstacles to achieving their educational potential. Furthermore, Payne (2003) and Hayward and Hoelscher (2011) pointed out that, in the United Kingdom, many students from disadvantaged backgrounds held vocational qualifications rather than the more traditional academic qualifications which are seen as the passport to HE.
The European Universities’ Charter on Lifelong Learning (EUA, 2008) asked HE institutions to provide education and learning to a growing diversified student population and to adapt study programmes to ensure that they were designed to widen participation. Individual countries responded to these requests in different ways. In particular, in the United Kingdom the commitment to widening participation has encouraged the growth of more and different pathways to HE study beyond the traditional school leaving qualifications.
Since more school leavers than ever before are entering HE and they come from more diverse backgrounds, it is important to know how different types of qualifications (e.g. academic versus vocational or non-traditional qualifications) are used by young people to gain access to universities and colleges of higher education. Therefore, the main aim of this work was to identify the destinations (both institutions and subjects of study) of learners progressing to HE with different social and educational backgrounds. Understanding the use of different pathways for progression should enable fairer and more transparent admissions criteria to HE.
Bougeois, E. (2001). University Adult Access Policies and Practices across the European Union and their Consequences for the Participation of Non-Traditional Adults. Brussels: European Commission. Bowes, L., Thomas, L., Peck, L. and Nathwani, T. (2013). International Research on the Effectiveness of Widening Participation. Leicester: CFE. Chowdry, H., Crawford, C., Dearden, L., Goodman, A. and Vignoles, A. (2013). Widening participation in higher education: analysis using linked administrative data. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 176(2): 431–457. EUA (2008). European Universities’ Charter on Lifelong Learning. Brussels: European University Association. European Commission (2000). The Lisbon European Council - an agenda of economic and social renewal for Europe. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities. Hayward, G. and Hoelscher, M. (2011). The use of large-scale administrative data sets to monitor progression from vocational education and training into higher education in the UK: possibilities and methodological challenges. Research in Comparative and International Education, 6(3): 316–329. HMSO (2003). Data Protection Act 2003. London: HMSO Hoelscher, M., Hayward, G., Ertl, H. and Dunbar-Goddet, H. (2008). The transition from vocational education and training to higher education: a successful pathway? Research Papers in Education, 23(2): 139–151. Keeley, B. (2007). Human capital. How what you know shapes your life. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. OECD (2012). Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Payne, J. (2003). Vocational pathways at age 16–19. Research report RR501. Nottingham: Department for Education and Skills.
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