Employability of graduates

Increasing the employability of graduates can not be done without a dialogue between employers and higher education. It results in the need of learning outcomes. The continouus evalution of teaching and learning challenging the Higher Education Institutions.

EHEA introductory material - 30/05/2016
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The aim of increasing graduates' employability has been discussed controversially since the very beginning of the Bologna process, mainly due to the ambiguity of the term. Before, „employability“ has been used in specific contexts, e.g. in Anglo-Saxon countries it has been linked to social-political questions of being able to participate in the labour market.

Certain groups promoted – or criticised – the interpretation of employability as the result of close alignment between study programmes and future occupation.

Employability versus profession
Employability has to be understood as the all-embracing goal of learning paths (e.g. a study programme). In contrast, a profession is asking for a qualification, which is characterised by the attribution of work patterns and occupational frameworks.

The role of employers

In the literature, definitions of work-related skills and competences vary widely. Nevertheless it seems to be consensus that most employers distinguish between subject-specific knowledge and social skills. Whereas higher education institutions tend to equip their graduates with the necessary subject-specific and methodological knowledge, generic skills are not always included in the curricula as a matter of course. During the assessment of candidates, the majority of employer surveys deem social skills as essential. Graduates in addition to broad profession-related knowledge should dispose of analytical skills, the ability to communicate and increased awareness for problem solving.

Employers expect higher education to provide transparent offers of internationally oriented programmes designed in line with the respective qualifications frameworks and the learning outcomes defined therein. Employers' expectations rose with the focus on employability as they anticipated recruiting graduates with a proficiency of action, who expand their profiles continuously and self-responsibly.

Through national, regional and sectoral qualifications frameworks, the profiles are described in terms of learning outcomes and documented as qualifications.

The role of higher education

To succeed in shaping their individual lives, graduates are due to dispose of a bundle of generic and subject-specific competences. Higher education institutions are all-time experts in providing subject-specific knowledge but less experienced in cultivating “soft skills” at the same time. These generic skills (e.g. methodological, social and intercultural competences, ethical values) are essential for finding, retaining or developing the individual position in society. Study programmes and modules have to be designed in a way which leaves room for all the components that only as a whole build its profile. To meet the expectations not only of employers, public and private institutions but also of the actual and future students, higher education teachers and administrators themselves have to face continuous change.

Today’s graduates need to combine transversal, multidisciplinary and innovation skills and competences with up-to-date subject-specific knowledge so as to be able to contribute to the wider needs of society and the labour market.

The Bucharest Communiqué, 2012

Challenges for Higher Education Institutions

Higher Education Institutions have to appropriately face the change of paradigm from the perspective of teachers to the students’ perspective. To cope with that change they should precisely and without ambiguity formulate expected learning outcomes. The learning outcomes define the framework for continuous evaluation of teaching and learning. These evaluations should enable higher education institutions to anticipate change and to be able to respond in an adequate way and in time.

Types of learning should become more and more differentiated in order to provide learning opportunities, including non-formal and informal learning, for a diversifying student population.

To take care of quality assurance and to create of transparency and trust, the use of standardised tools for the documentation of qualification levels, recognition processes, mobility is recommended.

Supporting tools and information that might be helpful:

  • European Qualifications Frameworks
  • National Qualifications Frameworks
  • Sectoral Qualifications Frameworks
  • Diploma Supplement
  • ECTS Users' Guide (including the Information Package)
  • European Standards and Guidelines
  • National Regulations for Quality Assurance

For a choice of good practice, please refer also to thematically related activities.

Published: 30/05/2016 - Last modified: 15/06/2016
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European Programmes

In the Erasmus+ programme guide, the European Commission European stipulates mobility:

to support learners in the acquisition of learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and competences) with a view to improving their personal development [...] and their employability in the European labour market and beyond.

Not only projects in Key Action 1 (mobility), but also in Key Action 2 (e.g. Strategic Partnerships, Knowledge Alliances) aim at the improvement of employability.

Erasmus+ Programme Guide