22 SES 04 B, Employability and Transition to Work of Higher Education Graduates
Parallel Paper Session
In stratified higher education systems like the British one, it does not only matter what students study at university, but also where they study. In fact, sometimes the place of study might be more important for employment outcomes than the subject studied. For example, it is tacitly known in Britain that it is more advantageous to have studied Classics at Oxford University in order to gain employment in investment banking as opposed to having studied finance or business studies at Wolverhampton University. This may seem counter-intuitive to observers from continental Europe.
The present paper investigates empirically the link between type of university, degree subject and success in gaining entry to a highly competitive tier of the English legal system – the English legal Bar. The statistical analysis is based on almost two-thousand observations of individuals who applied to the English Bar between 2000 and 2004. Only about one in three individuals was successful and the analysis will show which characteristics were predictive of success. The paper investigates the relative importance of type of university attended, subject studied, and degree classes on the chances of being successful in getting a training place in Law.
The paper is theoretically framed using Turner’s observation that merit and ascription are closely linked, the result is a surface rather than a deep meritocracy. The present study confirms an association between the prestige of universities, university attainment, and ethnic and other social composition of the student body. White, privately educated and professional class students are over-represented among the most prestigious universities. The reasons for these patterns are many fold including an interplay of primary and secondary effects.
In the present study, certified talent in the form of educational credentials from particular universities and grades are unevenly distributed among social groups. Student educated in private schools and those with professional class parents are most likely to attend the most prestigious universities whereas ethnic minority students attend less prestigious institutions. Aside from the symbolic capital gained from an elite university, different institutions also have a particular habitus through which tacit skills are conveyed through a hidden curriculum. Tacit skills or cultural habitus will be important for success, a specific habitus that enables coping ‘with the unforeseen and ever-changing situation… and makes possible the achievement of infinitely diversified tasks’ (Bourdieu 1977, p.72, 95). The legal Bar in England then, as a graduate legal profession will inevitably reflect the social imbalance within higher education.
It would be interesting to meet other researchers at ECER interested in the link between social stratification, type of university attended, and labour market outcomes in specific professions. Future collaborative work would help us to further investigate the hypothesis that there is convergence in mobility pattern in industrial nations regardless of institutional or educational contexts (Featherman et al. 1975), meaning that we expect similar effects of social grouping on entry to legal profession across different European democracies.
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