22 SES 02 C, Employability and Transition to Work of Higher Education Graduates
The purpose of this paper is to critically examine the relationship between higher education and working life in the making of expertise. Traditionally the production of expertise was based on thinking that the growth of scientific knowledge would translate to solutions via the activities of professionals working in specialized institutions (Eräsaari, 2003). However, the massive spread of competing information and increase of uncertainties have lead to the displacement of traditional expertise and status of higher education (Ibid.). Then, a strategic goal of European Union as a competitive economy has been to find a new kind of relationship between society and higher education. Required changes to this end include new types of relations between education and work, and as a consequence, new kind of competence and expertise. First, working life has become increasingly central player in the development and planning of higher education at both European, national and local level, and working life orientation (e.g., transferable skills) is included into higher education curricula. Second, European higher education has been developed in a competence-centered way. Evidently this is reflected in the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), in which the “learning outcomes” of different educational levels are described in terms of competence (European Commission, 2008). In this situation, some have been frightened that higher education will lose their authority to establish and distribute expertise. There has been a debate on whether economic drivers have taken over the cultural and educational rational of universities and whether working life orientation is but an expression of the movement toward neo-liberal educational policy. Nevertheless, higher education does not necessarily loosening its power to control expertise, but it is asked to operate in more market-driven ways than before.
The Finnish higher education system is an interesting case regarding these problematic. Finnish educational system is divided into two parallel sectors after the compulsory education. In higher education level universities concentrate on academic research and education whereas polytechnics are more oriented to professional higher education. To strengthen the dual model, a new master-level degree, polytechnics Master's degree, was established into the Finnish higher education system in 2005. This new degree is a forerunner of work-oriented higher education, as most such degrees are so far designed for a bachelor-level or lower. Working life orientation of polytechnic Master's degree has been ensured by defining it as an adult education degree, where eligibility requires three years of work experience after Bachelor’s degree. From the beginning the polytechnics master’s thesis has been specifically defined as a working life development project (Salminen 2002). Polytechnics Master’s degrees are designed to produce, in principle, working life oriented competence and expertise by developing work practices in collaboration with working life.
The aim of this study is to look at the value of higher education, particularly Master’s degrees, from graduates’ point of view. How graduates from different master-level programs reflect on their competence and expertise? What, in their words, they gratitude to higher education? How do they see the interlinking of working life and higher education?
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