22 SES 01 C, Graduate Education and Academic Careers
The research presented here forms the second phase of a wider study which focused on the aspirations and expectations of students studying on an Education Studies undergraduate degree at a London university, as a potential explanation for the lower graduate employment figure. The London university in this study is a post 1992 'widening participation' university. Students are considered to be non-traditional, 84% are from BAME backgrounds, many are the first in their family to attend university. The objective of the first phase was to identify students’ expectations, aspirations, goals and anxieties, as they entered their journey into Higher Education (HE) (Roffey-Barentsen and Burnell, in preparation). The second phase explored the aspirations and intentions of a cohort of level 6 students who were due to complete their education studies degree, before entering the (graduate) labour market.
Our research question was:
What are the aspirations and intentions of final year students on an Education Studies programme.
Government statistics suggested that 87% of graduates were in employment, with 66% in high skilled employment (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), 2016a). In London, these figures were slightly lower with 52% of students employed in full-time paid work six months after graduation (if part-time work, in work but also studying and those due to start a job within the next month are taken into account, the employment ﬁgure increases to 69%) (Storan et al., 2017). Just under 64% of young London resident graduates were employed in Professional or Associate Professional & Managerial Occupations, or ‘graduate level’ jobs, 6 months after their graduation (ibid.). The figures for the university in this study were different with general employment of its graduate students above 90% but its number in graduate employment much lower at 46%. Statistics showed (BIS, 2016a) that Black graduates had lower high skilled employment rates and higher unemployment rates than White graduates and Asian graduates. Although the differences in overall employment rates between white graduates and those from minority ethnicitieshave decreased, differences in professional employment rates have not improved and graduates from minority ethnicities mostly have much lower professional employment rates (HEFCE, 2016). It could therefore be argued that the inclusion of these students in HE does not automatically mean they are included in the graduate jobs market. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister has set two specific, clear goals on widening participation in higher education: to double the proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering university in 2020 compared to 2009, and to increase the number of black and minority ethnic (BME) students going to university by 20% by 2020 (BIS, 2016b). We questioned whether students at the university of this study lacked the aspiration to apply for graduate employment. Bourdieu referred to ‘the resignation of the inevitable’ (1984: 372) amongst the working class, the acceptance of a restricted position, which is endemic within working class culture. Within this culture, a feeling of 'settling for what you've got' or 'not pushing your luck' (Nash 1990: 439), becomes the accepted common sense. This may be one explanation as to why non-traditional students, having acquired a degree, may not continue to secure graduate employment.
From a European perspective this research was relevant as most European countries have seen a significant expansion of HE provision (OECD, 2014). In the 28 countries of the EU there were 19.5 million tertiary education students in 2015, with approximately 4.7 million students graduating that year (Eurostat, 2017). These graduates will be competing for the 29% of jobs that are classified as graduate jobs (Henseke and Green, 2015).
This research, which was interpretivist in nature, was in the form of a case-study. with a focus on the Education Studies programme of one London university. Participants of this second phase of the wider study were selected by convenience sampling. All 50 students at Level 6 of their studies (final year) were invited to complete a semi-structured questionnaire which was available online. Participant information sheets were supplied and by completing the questionnaire, participants gave their consent. Ethical approval for the study was granted by the university. The questionnaire contained a variety of questions, some using multiple choice or Likers scale, however, most were open-ended questions, which offered richer data. A total of 27 (54%) questionnaires were returned. Although this is a good response rate, an element of non-response bias cannot be ruled out as the characteristics of those who responded and those who did not may not be the same. Responses to each question were analysed, using thematic analysis of the open-ended questions. We, the researchers, did not seek to make generalisations from the research. Based on our rich data, we were able to acquire an in-depth insight into why some of these graduates fail to compete for graduate employment. It is anticipated that other Higher Education Institutions with a strong on widening participation agenda, in perhaps similar inner-city situations (in the UK or Europe), can relate to the findings.
As stated, the participants in this study were students in their final year of a BA Education Studies degree. They were asked to complete a questionnaire that intended to capture their expectations and intentions. In response to the first question, 15 participants agreed that the university experience had completely fulfilled or exceeded their expectations, with 11 agreeing to partial fulfilment. When questioned on what their intentions had been when they joined the course, 19 participants indicated that they had intended to work, whilst 7 opted for further study. However, these intentions did not persist. Now that they had finished their degree programme, 12 participants responded that they intended to pursue post-graduate study. Further, 2 participants indicated that they would continue in their current job, which was not graduate employment. 11 Respondents, who were already employed, indicated that they would seek other employment, such as a Teaching Assistant or Education Officer with the DfE. Closer analysis of these responses revealed that 9 participants were going to seek employment in non-graduate jobs, whilst 6 were seeking graduate employment. The final question asked the participants where they would like to be in 6 months-time. Those who had previously responded by indicating that they were going to pursue post-graduate study, naturally responded that they would be part way through their programmes of study. However, some responses to this question were confusing as 11 participants indicated that they would like to be in graduate employment, contradicting the earlier responses. This revealed a possible issue: students were not fully aware of what graduate employment is, and would not know which jobs to apply for. What became clear from conducting this study was that not every graduate intended to find graduate employment, instead pursuing a job that they could have secured without a degree.
Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction London, UK: Routledge and Kegan Paul Eurostat (2017) Tertiary education statistics Available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Tertiary_education_statistics (accessed 24th Jan 2018) Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2016a) Graduate Labour Market Statistics. London: BIS Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2016b) Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice. London: BIS Henseke, G. and Green, F. (2015) “Graduate Jobs” in OECD Countries: Development and Analysis of a Modern Skills-Based Indicator, published by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies at: http://www.llakes.ac.uk Higher Education Council for England (2016) Differences in employment outcomes: Comparison of 2008-09 and 2010-11 first degree graduates Nash, R. (1990) Bourdieu on Education and Social and Cultural Reproduction British Journal of Sociology of Education 11, 4: pp 431-447 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2014) Education at a glance. Paris: OECD Roffey-Barentsen, J. and Burnell, I. A degree but no graduate job: an exploration of reasons for the low graduate employment figure for students of a London University. (in preparation) Storan, J.,Weeden, S. and Tindell, G. (2017) The higher education journey of young London residents. London: London Councils
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