Past Event details

Investigating inequalities in graduate outcomes

Thursday, 09 March 2017

This set of research papers will allow presenters and participants to critically reflect together upon factors that unequally shape students' decision-making processes about their graduate futures. This will lead to discussion that unpicks how young people from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds take decisions about postgraduate study, career development and their futures as independent adults. 

Confronting the Crisis: Youth Transitions, Social Mobility and Precarious Futures 
Professor Rob MacDonald, Teesside University 

Unemployment, underemployment and precarious work are now common features of youth transitions in many European countries. Blithe statements about social mobility, up-skilling and the value of education in the so-called ‘knowledge economy’ ignore the fact that, counter to all orthodoxy, in some countries it is the better educated who face the greatest risk of unemployment and in many others, like the UK, the ‘pay off’ from a university degree is far less obvious than previously (with the risks of ‘failure’ fully transferred from state to debt-laden graduate). Exactly how social class privilege protects the interests of the elite within a massified higher education system is open to empirical investigation. And we are still fully to unravel the new patterns of possibility and constraint that arise in student transitions (as an outcome of the changing interplay of state welfare, labour market and family resources). It is more certain, the paper concludes, that there is now a profound but barely acknowledged institutional crisis of youth transitions, education and economy in the UK. 

Student Debt Implications for Graduates from Non-traditional Backgrounds
Dr Katy Vigurs & Dr Colin McCaig, Staffordshire University & Sheffield Hallam University
This is a paper of two halves. It will begin with a general analysis of student finance arrangements and repayment terms and what this could mean for graduates from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This will then be compared with the lived experiences of a number of graduating students to see how student debt is impacting unequally upon graduate decision-making in relation to employment and postgraduate study.

Honourable Mobility or Shameless Entitlement? Habitus and Graduate Employment
Dr Jessie Abrahams, University of Surrey
This paper explores the contrasting predispositions of a group of working-class and middle-class undergraduates to using nepotism to gain advantage in the labour market. Drawing upon a Bourdieusian framework, it is argued that the middle-class students, whose habitus was aligned to the field, were more likely to express a willingness to utilise whatever networks they could to secure a ‘foot in the door’. Meanwhile, the working-class students, who were more insecure about the legitimacy of their participation within a middle-class field, expressed a commitment to a form of honour which ruled out using contacts on the grounds that it was morally unacceptable. They discussed a desire to ‘prove themselves’ which is arguably symptomatic of a deeply ingrained reliance on meritocracy. I explore how this may arise due to their habitus having developed within a dominated position in society where respectability is crucial to generating feelings of self-worth and value.

‘Talent-spotting’ or ‘social magic’? Inequality, cultural sorting and constructions of the ideal graduate in elite professions
Dr Kim Allen and Dr Nicola Ingram, University of Leeds & Lancaster University 
Graduate employability is an enduring imperative in Higher Education and prominent policy drive. It has also been central to national social mobility agendas and the current policy discourse of ‘fair access to the professions. High-status occupations are disproportionately composed of those from socially privileged backgrounds and inequalities within graduate transitions and earnings, related to social class, gender and ethnicity, remain stubbornly persistent. While much work on inequalities in graduate transitions and outcomes has focused on the experiences of graduates themselves, this paper turns the spotlight on graduate employers. Specifically it seeks to expose the ways that graduate employers’ constructions of the ideal and employable graduate reproduce inequalities in graduate transitions and access to ‘top jobs’.  
Using Bourdieusian concepts of ‘Social Magic’ (1992) and ‘Institutional Habitus’ (Burke et al 2013) and Puwar’s  (2004) theorisation of the ‘somatic norm’, we demonstrate how graduate recruitment and selection practices mitigate against the achievement of more equitable higher education outcomes. To do this we present a critical discourse analysis of the recruitment material of two top graduate employers and demonstrate how their recruitment and selection practices privilege a certain type of graduate. We demonstrate that this is an individual is who is able to mobilise and embody forms of capital that chime with the somatic norm that is institutionalised within particular graduate professions and organisations. We argue graduate employers’ emphasis on the ‘skills’ and personal ‘traits’ (such as resilience, self-confidence, polish and passion) obscures and naturalises tacit processes of cultural sorting and matching occurring within graduate recruitment within which youth, whiteness, middle-classness and maleness are privileged.

Inequalities in the take up of postgraduate studies after graduation?
Dr Sally Hancock, University of York 
This paper will explore transitions to postgraduate study in the UK, with a particular focus on progression to doctoral degrees. Data from the most recent Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) longitudinal survey (2008/9 and 2010/11) will be combined with insights from analysis undertaken for the Postgraduate Support Scheme (2014-16). Differences between those who do and do not progress to postgraduate study will be examined in relation to both individual and structural factors (e.g. by age, gender, ethnicity, social class, attainment and institution attended). The implications of these findings for institutional practice and public policy will be addressed. 

Audio podcasts of the above presentations are available from the following link

 PowerPoint presentations are available from the 'Event Files' section below:

Network: Access and Widening Participation
Date: Thursday, 09 March 2017
Times: 11.00-16.00
Location: SRHE, 73 Collier St, London N1 9BE
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Event Files
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Student Debt Implications for Graduates from Non-Traditional Backgrounds?
Dr Katy Vigurs and Dr Colin McCaig
Confronting the Crisis: youth transitions, social mobility and precarious futures
Robert MacDonald, Social Futures Institute, Teesside University
Dr. Sally Hancock Department of Education, University of York
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