22 SES 04 D, Learning and Employability
For those engaged in international debates about the contemporary doctorate, the following two perspectives will be both familiar and problematic. The first perspective arises from the policy promise of the knowledge economy - a global policy consensus which tells of the fundamental importance of doctoral graduates to secure long-term economic prosperity and resolve the complex challenges of globalisation (Hancock and Walsh 2016; Hancock et al. 2017; Skovgaard-Pedersen 2014). According to this view, doctoral graduates are prized knowledge workers, ‘tackling major business challenges and driving innovation and growth’ (Smith 2010: 5). Doctoral graduates are expected to enjoy higher earnings, professional autonomy, and interesting, creative work (Lindley and Machin 2013; Walsh 2013). Hallmarks of neoliberalism infuse this narrative. Sufficiently capable individuals are encouraged to invest in a doctorate, which will permit access to high-status and well-paid knowledge work. In the knowledge economy, the possibilities for individual success and economic growth are infinite (Friedman 2005: 230).
Notably less buoyant is a second account, which characterises doctoral transitions into non-academic occupations as a story of unmet expectations and frustrated ambitions. Here, doctoral graduates are ‘bright and talented… disillusioned and directionless’ – forced to rethink career expectations when the prospect of securing an academic position falters (Nature 2014: 8). Agency is undermined and professional identities must be revised. Across Europe, octoral graduates who enter non-research positions report lower job satisfaction than those who remain in research (Auriol et al. 2013), while analysis of newly qualified European doctoral graduates suggests that they are not as easily absorbed into the labour market as the knowledge economy view implies (Skovgaard-Pederson 2014). Evidence that doctoral graduates mobilise across a range of sectors is limited (Mangematin 2000) undermining the notion of ‘transferable’ skills. This critical reading of the knowledge economy relates to a broader set of concerns about the meritocratic potential of mass higher education systems at a time of unprecedented levels of economic inequality (Piketty 2014: 306-7; Marginson 2016).
This study offers a timely reappraisal of the knowledge economy promise, analysing recent employment data for UK doctoral graduates, linked to academic and socio-demographic data. A secondary data analysis approach was undertaken, using existing survey data collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). HESA created a bespoke dataset for analysis,, limited to 2008/9 and 2010/11 UK doctoral graduates in the longitudinal Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (LDLHE) survey. It was reasoned that this survey – which captures activity at 3.5 years after graduation – would offer a more meaningful insight into doctoral outcomes than the initial six month survey. Survey data were linked to academic and socio-demographic information to afford a more detailed insight into how career pathways may differ, and the particular correlates of employment outcomes. There are a total of 4345 cases in the dataset. This paper will concentrate on the following research questions: What are the main employment outcomes reported by doctoral graduates? To what extent do employment outcomes differ by doctoral subject and institution? To what extent do employment outcomes differ by socio-demographic characteristics? Outcomes are defined as: employment rate; graduate level employment; position; sector; salary; job satisfaction. Higher education institution outcomes are reported by mission group, and subject areas are defined using the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS). Socio-demographic characteristics are defined as: age on entry; gender; ethnicity; social class; state school; parental occupation and education; and, neighborhood participation rate (POLAR3). The data analysis includes two elements: firstly, a descriptive analysis to describe key trends in doctoral outcomes; and secondly, the application of logistic regression to understand the impact of academic and socio-demographic variables on the odds of achieving particular outcomes, including entry into an academic career.
Many doctoral graduates report successful early transitions to the labour market. The majority (88.1%) are in full or part time employment. Of those employed, over 80% are employed in ‘expert’ level work (cf. Elias and Purcell 2013). Some 8.2% are employed in non-graduate occupations, compared to a range of 15-30% for first degree graduates (Behle 2016). The median reported salary (£38,000) is higher than that reported for first degree graduates ten years after graduation (Britton et al. (2016)). These earnings data will be compared to earlier studies conducted across continental Europe and in the United States, to offer an international perspective. Doctoral graduates enter a diverse range of sectors. The largest single category of employment is ‘higher education teaching professional’ (one-fifth of the sample). Approximately one-third of doctoral graduates remain in academia 3.5 years after graduation (this represents both higher education teaching professional and research roles), while a further third occupy a research role outside of academia. There are, however, considerable variations in employment destinations by institution, subject and certain socio-demographic characteristics. Almost half of all social science doctoral graduates transition into ‘higher education teaching professional’, whereas only one tenth of STEMM graduates do. Gender and age are significantly associated with certain outcomes - after controlling for subject, institution, and prior qualifications: male graduates are more likely to become higher education teaching professionals or to find a research role outside of academia. Female graduates are also significantly more likely to enter non-graduate employment. A focused set of results, together with policy and practice implications, will be presented.
Auroil, L., Misu, M. and Freeman, R. A. (2013). Careers of doctoral holders: analysis of labour market and mobility indicators. OECD Science, Technology and Industry working papers, 4, 1-61. Behle, H. (2016) Graduates in non-graduate occupations. Report to HEFCE and SRHE. Boliver, V. (2016). Exploring ethnic inequalities in admission to Russell Group universities. Sociology 50(2): 247-266. Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. (2016) How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. IFS working paper W16/06. Retrieved 22 June 2017, from https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/publications/wps/wp201606.pdf Elias, P. and Purcell, K. (2013). Classifying graduate occupations for the knowledge society. FutureTrack, working paper 5. Friedman, T. (2005) The World Is Flat. London: Penguin. Hancock, S. and Walsh, E. (2016) Beyond knowledge and skills: rethinking professional development during the STEM doctorate. Studies in Higher Education, 41(1), 37-50. Hancock, S., Hughes, G., and Walsh, E. (2017) Purist or pragmatist? UK doctoral scientists’ moral positions on the knowledge economy. Studies in Higher Education, 42(7),1244-58. Lindley, J. and Machin, S. (2013) The Postgraduate Premium: Revisiting Trends in Social Mobility and Educational Inequalities in Britain and America. London: The Sutton Trust. Mangematin, V. (2000). PhD job market: professional trajectories and incentives during the PhD. Research Policy, 29(6), 741-56. Marginson, S. (2016) The worldwide trend to high participation higher education: dynamics of social stratification in inclusive systems. Higher Education, 72(4), 413-34. Nature (2014) Editorial: Harsh reality. Nature, 516, 7–8. Piketty, T (2014) Capital in the Twenty First Century. London: Belknap Press. Skovgaard-Pedersen H. (2014) New doctoral graduates in the knowledge economy: key trends and issues. Journal of Higher Education Management and Policy, 36(6), 632-45. Smith, A. (2010) One step beyond: making the most of postgraduate education. Report for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Retrieved 22 June 2017, from http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/470/7/10-704-one-step-beyond-postgraduate-education_Redacted.pdf Wakeling, P. and Hampden-Thompson, G. (2013) Transition to Higher Degrees Across the UK: an Analysis of National, Institutional and Individual Differences (York, Higher Education Academy). Walsh, E., Anders, K., and Hancock, S. (2013) Understanding, attitude and environment: The essentials for developing creativity in STEM researchers. International Journal for Researcher Development, 4(1), 19 – 38.
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