22 SES 09 B, Student Transitions and Graduate Employability
Research questions and objectives
Recently the problems of employability have been looming large. Since 2007 the aim to enhance employability of graduates has been permanently on the Bologna process agenda and has been defined as one of the priorities of higher education (HE). At the same time the widening of access to HE, accompanied with trends of massification, diversification, growing stratification of higher education institutions (HEIs) and last but not least the economic crisis, have created new challenges for graduate employability.
In this context it is not surprising that graduate employability has become a hot issue. The paper aims at outlining some of the main approaches in studying inequalities in employability of graduates. It argues that graduate employability have different aspects and needs to be studied using complementary approaches and on different levels: individual, institutional and national level.
More specifically, the paper addresses the following research questions:
- What are the individual factors which determine the graduates’ chances of experiencing problems with their employability?
- Are there differences across European countries in graduate employability and what are the contextual factors which explain the between countries differences?
- Do institutional profiles of HEIs affect inequalities in graduate employability?
Although the concept of employability is widely used there is no unanimity about its meaning (Gazier 1998; Tomlinson 2012). It has been defined in absolute (Hillage & Pollard 1998) and relative terms (Brown et al. 2003; Brown et. al 2004), as well as through identity perspective (Holmes 2001; Tomlinson 2009; Hinchliffe & Jolly 2011). Thus, Brown and his colleagues (2003) criticise Hillage & Pollard’s definition according to which employability “is about being capable of getting and keeping fulfilling work”, arguing that such interpretation represents a classic example of “blaming the victim”. Borrowing this idea from Hirsch (1976), they argue that employability has also a relative dimension - “the relative chances of getting and maintaining different kinds of employment” (Brown et al. 2004). Brown et al. (2003) emphasise that the high participation rates in HE weakened the differentiating power of knowledge in the legitimation of labour market (LM) and creates possibility graduates to be employable but unemployed due to the oversupply of suitably qualified candidates. The “graduate identity” approach focuses on the way graduates construct and develop their employability and looks at the employability in dynamic perspective. In a recent study Holmes (2013) defines the dominant perspectives on graduate employability as “possessive”, “positioning” and “processual” approaches and argues in favour of processual approach, particularly in terms of identity project, as providing positive guidance on how we might reform the curriculum.
These different perspectives to defining employability have reflected in focusing on different factors as having impact on it and in outlining different policy implications. Studies (van de Werfhorst 2011a, 2011b; van der Velden and Wolbers 2007) have demonstrated that variations in the mechanisms which explain the impact of education may exist not only between countries but also depending on institutional settings in the same country such as public/private sectors or different industries.
Taking into account these considerations, we assume that employability is related to graduates’ abilities to find employment. These abilities have a subjective side connected with their knowledge, skills, attitudes, identities, and values and an objective side which refers to the more general social conditions and the position/status of graduates on the LM. The objective side reflects the state of the LM which depends on the development of the economy; the state of HE (incl. structure of HEIs, level of massification, structure of graduate body, etc.).
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