22 SES 09 B, Student Transitions and Graduate Employability
The graduate labour market in the UK is becoming increasingly congested, with a growing throughput of students chasing a largely stagnant pool of opportunities – especially since the global financial crisis. This ‘opportunity trap’ (Brown 2003) has been such that even high-achieving graduates have been unable secure employment at a level that matches their academic results or perceived employment potential (Smetherham 2006).
One effect has been the reclassification of jobs as ‘graduate’ as become populated by those who have been unable obtain traditional graduate roles (Chevalier and Lindley 2009). Another has been that graduates have felt compelled to increase their qualifications in order to accrue, accredit or demonstrate the ‘work-related skills’ that are valued by employers, especially where they felt that they underperformed in their first degree (Tomlinson 2008; Brooks and Everett 2009).
There are persistent questions about who wins and who loses within this marketplace and which factors might determine behaviour and outcomes. This paper will address one component of this issue, by looking at those individuals who seek to enter the graduate labour market, but who return to higher education within three years to increase their qualifications.
The primary research question was therefore to distinguish between 'leavers' (those who were in work six months after graduation and did not re-enter higher education within three years) and 'returners' (those who were in work after six months, but who subsequently re-entered higher education on a taught postgraduate course). Specifically, the following research questions were addressed:
1. How do the populations of returners and leavers contrast across (a) occupation after six months, (b) gender, (c) age, (d) ethnicity, (e) undergraduate degree classification, (f) undergraduate degree subject, (g) whether they undertook a sandwich placement, and (h) status of university at which their undergraduate degree was undertaken?
2. Which of these factors are significantly associated with the likelihood of a return to taught postgraduate study, once other factors are held constant?
3. What can be inferred about the nature of the graduate labour market and the perceptions of people entering it?
Brooks, R. and G. Everett. 2009. “Post-graduation reflections on the value of a degree.” British Educational Research Journal 35 (3): 333-349. Brown, P. 2003. The opportunity trap: education and employment in a global economy. European Educational Research Journal, 2(1), 141-179. Chevalier, A. and J. Lindley. 2009. “Overeducation and the skills of UK graduates.” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A, Statistics in Society 172 (2): 307-337. Moureau, M. and C. Leathwood. 2006. “Graduates' employment and the discourse of employability: a critical analysis.” Journal of Education and Work 19 (4): 305-324. Smetherham, C. 2006. “Firsts among equals? Evidence on the contemporary relationship between educational credentials and the occupational structure.” Journal of Education and Work 19 (1): 29-45. Tomlinson, M. 2008. “‘The degree is not enough’: students’ perceptions of the role of higher education credentials for graduate work and employability.” British Journal of Sociology of Education 29 (1): 49 – 61.
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