Facilitated by:  Dr Fiona Christie who is the co-convenor of the SRHE Employability, Enterprise and Work-Based Learning network. For more details about the network convenors and its activities, please click here.


Higher education institutions (HEIs) face increasing demands from both governments and employers for ensuring economic competitiveness, and from students who expect ‘outcomes’ for their higher education (HE) investment. Consequently, universities worldwide face an employability imperative that pressures them to position themselves as labour market institutions. This has resulted in a technical-rational and instrumental perspective on education that emphasises employability – that is, the ability to obtain and maintain a job, and to ensure the supply of competence in the labour market.

Employability has become a normative ideal that sets new kinds of demands for graduates, as they are in continual need of development and ensuring their suitability and potential for future jobs. It is no longer enough to possess ‘hard currencies’ in the form of traditional academic qualifications. Ideal graduates need to seek new challenges and signal their passion and dedication for work. They increasingly need to demonstrate personal qualities such as being accountable, agile, active, independent, self-responsible, risk-taking, creative, problem-solving, decision-making and enterprising. These skills and attributes represent ‘soft currencies’ that are not based on formal expertise or university degrees as such, and that are supposed to be carried luggage-like from job to job, thereby enhancing graduates’ successful navigation in competitive and unstable labour markets.

This webinar is based on a recently published book “Rethinking Graduate Employability in Context” (2023). The book challenges human capital assumptions and individualistic views of graduate employability. This is important as prior research on graduate employability has focused largely on the individual university student and their skills formation as an educational outcome. Such an approach measures how well the individual has succeeded in matching their human capital profile to labour market demands. As a consequence, the individual becomes responsible for their own labour market position and success. Viewed in this way, employability is understood as something that can be developed in absolute terms through enhancing employability-related personal qualities, skills and abilities that make one appealing to different employers. Such a view presents a theoretically general link between education and the labour market, viewing HE as an investment that ‘pays off’ in subsequent employment opportunities and earnings.


14.00 – 14.05

Welcome & introductions

14.05 – 14.15

Päivi Siivonen & Ulpukka Isopahkala-Bouret: Critical perspectives on employability

14.15 – 14.30

Leonard Holmes: On the (un)scientific study of graduate employability

14.30 – 14.45

Michael Tomlinson: Forms of Graduate Capital – the trajectory and wider applications of the GCM

14.45 – 15.00

Mariangela Lundgren-Resenterra: Unravelling the concept of graduate employability: understanding the emancipatory agenda for HE

15.00 – 15.15

Claire Bonnard: The vocational drift of French higher education and the employability of graduates

15.15 – 15.30

Q&A and close



Speaker bionotes

Claire Bonnard is Associate Professor of Education at the Institute for Research in the Sociology and Economics of Education (IREDU), University of Burgundy and the Director of the regional associated centre of the French Centre for Research in Education, Training and Employment (Céreq) for the Burgundy region. Her research interests include youth employability, transition from school to work and vocational education.

Leonard Holmes has researched, presented on, and written about graduate employability for over three decades, particularly criticising approaches to research, to policy, and to practices based on notions of graduate attributes and employability skills, arguing that these are conceptually and theoretically flawed, lack empirical support, and have limited practical application. He has argued for an alternative, ‘Graduate Identity’ approach, based on concepts of emergent identity and of practices. His first degree was in philosophy (Nottingham), and he particularly draws upon methods of conceptual clarification and philosophy of science in his work. His PhD was awarded by the Institute of Education (now part of University College London). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. He continues to work on various academic issues of concern on an independent basis.

Ulpukka Isopahkala-Bouret works as a Professor at University of Turku. Her research interests focus on equality in/through higher education and she has conducted studies on a wide variety of topics, including educational access, social and institutional stratification, graduate employability and educational credentialing, as well as agency in educational and professional life trajectories. She is also a chief editor of Aikuiskasvatus, a peer-reviewed adult education journal.

Mariangela Lundgren-Resenterra is a scholar-practitioner who combines her academic expertise in HR Management and Organizational Behaviour with her coaching practice. She has taught at the Geneva School of Business Administration at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland and continues to conduct research in the field of higher education, coaching, and mentoring. She uses critical realist approaches to explore issues such as graduate employability and the role of coaching techniques in academic supervision and teamwork. Her current research interests involve examining how coaching techniques embedded in higher education studies can foster students’ collective reflexivity and social relations to enhance their entrepreneurial skills for sustainable teamwork.

Päivi Siivonen is an Associate Professor at the University of Turku, Department of Education. Her research interests include adult and higher education, employability, academic entrepreneurship, narrative research and gender studies. She was the leader of the consortium project ‘Higher Education Graduates’ Employability and Social Positioning in the Labour Market’ (HighEmploy, 2018–2022) funded by the Academy of Finland. She has published three books: Huiputuksen moraalijärjestys (Moral order of top-performativity), 2019, New movements in academic entrepreneurship, 2021, and Rethinking graduate employability in context, 2023.

Michael Tomlinson is Professor of Higher Education and Work at the Southampton Education School, University of Southampton. He has extensively researched the area of graduate employability and transitions to the labour market and his work is conceptually and critically informed. He has pioneered a number of key models, including the Graduate Capital model which has been actively incorporated in the University of Southampton careers and employability strategy, as well as other UK and international institutions. In addition, he has researched developments in higher education policy, including critical approaches to the marketisation of UK higher education and the implications this has for institutions, students and academics. Michael is the author and co-author of five books which have brought together his thinking in these fields and serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Education and Work, British Journal of Sociology of Education, Higher Education Policy and Higher Education.

March 13th, 2024 from  2:00 PM to  3:30 PM
Online event - link will be provided
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