Employability and equity: A comparative international analysis

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 38: Learning for Life and Work in a Complex World

July, 2015, 528 pages
Published by
T. Thomas, E. Levin, P. Dawson, K. Fraser & R. Hadgraft

Improving the employability of students has become central to universities across both Australian and American contexts. The rise of employability as an essential graduate capability is reflected in reform of the mainstream curriculum to cultivate interpersonal and other ‘soft’ skills; a growth in the extent and diversity of clinical and industry placements; and the increasing use of graduate outcome data to inform student aid allocation, institutional reputation, and potentially accreditation (Field, 2013). A greater emphasis on the measurable and utilitarian value of degrees is partly driven by concern over rising fees and student debt (Avery & Turner, 2012; Kamenetz, 2006), and partly by a decline in the graduate wage premium as systems move from mass towards universal participation (Trow, 1973).

Integrating employability into university curriculum raises a central question of student equity. How can universities ensure that employment opportunities are aligned with the interests and assets of an increasingly diverse student population? Presently, some student cohorts have significantly worse labour market outcomes than others. Graduates with a disability or from a non-­‐English speaking background, Black, Latina/o, and ethnic minority graduates all typically face worse than average employment outcomes (Graduate Careers Australia, 2014b). Further, perceptions of high student debt may steer students away from choosing lower-­‐paying careers that serve the public interest (Rothstein & Rouse, 2011).

The authors suggest how the employability capability may be developed to reduce rather than reinforce inequality, drawing on higher education theory and practice from Australia and the United States.

Keywords: Employability, equity, higher education