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Master's survey launch

Anna Prades Nebot (Project manager) - Lorena Bernàldez Arjona (Management assistant adviser)

The fifth series of studies on graduate destinations (labour market outcomes of graduates) in Catalonia is to be carried out in the first quarter of 2014. For the first time, Master's degrees will be included in the main survey.

Graduate destination studies stem from the interest of universities in the employment outcomes of graduates. Surveys provide information to society on the level and quality of graduate employment outcomes, although they were conceived fundamentally as an instrument for collecting useful information on the education-job match (or the match between the provision of university education and the needs of the labour market).

Surveys are designed to gather information that can then be used for decision-making with regard to:

  • The education-job match, a basic factor in assessing the viability of a study programme that is running.
  • The fitness of purpose of the practical dimension of the curriculum (suitability of the type of practices, bearing in mind the kind of jobs and sectors in which graduates gain employment).
  • The appropriateness of the theoretical and practical aspects of learning and different core competences (problem solving, team work, languages, etc.) for the work place. This is used to calculate the skills gap, information on which is necessary when designing the competence profile and the most suitable teaching methods to redress any gaps that are detected.
  • The processes whereby graduates gain entry into the labour market and find jobs, which is information that constitutes the basis of careers guidance and employment services.

In order to successfully deal with these ambitious objectives, a representative sample is needed of each degree programme and university, which implies a high volume of surveys (see table 1) and at a considerable cost. The fact that they are continuing to be carried out at a time of severe budgetary restraint is a clear gauge of their usefulness to all of the universities involved.

As is typical with this type of studies, the process of developing the survey has been a participatory process: a workgroup was set up to design the graduate destinations survey of Master's degrees1, with technical experts from all of the Catalan universities, which worked on and agreed both the definitive survey and other issues concerning the methodology (defining the population and sample and when exactly to carry out the survey).

Table 1. 2014 graduate destinations survey. Population and sample*
  Population Sample
Pre-EHEA graduates  31.672 17.362
Master's  16.641 7.591
Doctorate/PhD degrees  2.139 1.433

*Anticipated sample according to the graduate population

Master's degrees are the most flexible instrument available to the universities in terms of adaptability to the requirements of the labour market; for this reason the boards of trustees of the Catalan universities agreed to broaden the survey to include Master's degrees. The quality assurance of Master's degrees is, however, not without its challenges:

  1. Firstly, and precisely because of their flexibility, they are very dynamic programmes (name changes, programmes that are phased out, etc.), which makes specific monitoring difficult.
  2. Second, many Master's courses have a low volume of graduates, which makes it impossible to define representative samples on the scale of specific courses and for a specific university in a considerable number of Master's courses.
  3. Third, for a large proportion of the graduate population (graduates from 4-6 year degree courses/llicenciatures, graduates from 3-year degree courses/diplomatures, engineering degrees, etc.) a first or second-cycle degree leads to their first job, whereas a Master's degree represents the belief in a better employment status, either through a greater understanding of their professional field or a change in disciplinary approach (for example, graduates who decide to take a Master's in management in order to acquire new skills). The survey thus needs to show the impact of Master's degrees on graduate employment.
  4. Lastly, some Master's degrees with a large contingent of foreign students.

These challenges have given rise to a series of new developments in terms of methodology, including:

  1. It was agreed that the sample should be based on sub-groups of degrees and over two cohorts, i.e. according to similar groups of degrees, not specific degrees. This way it will not be affected by any name changes, and the population will be larger.
  2. The survey incorporates a series of questions aimed at getting responses to the impact of the Master's course. This series was based on the experience with surveys of the Catalan Open University (UOC), where many students are already in gainful employment, and also experience with the gender survey, where one important focus is the labour market outcomes of graduates ten years after completing their studies.
  3. An on-line survey will be set up whereby international students can be contacted and feedback obtained. The survey, which will include all Master's degrees where more than 40% of those taking the degree are international students, will also enable a pilot test to be carried out on the suitability of this methodology for later studies on graduate destinations.
  4. As many Master's programmes have an explicit international vocation (they are taught in English, they offer possibilities of stays abroad, etc.), there is one group of questions on the quality of experiences of this kind. There is another group of questions for assessing the degree to which Master's programmes offer this information, which is based on past QA experiences with internationalisation. The impact assessment has one objective and one subjective section.
  5. The set of questions on skills formation has been adapted to the level of skills for this level of learning (MECES).

Table 2. Master's degree survey is structure
Set 1 PRE-MASTER'S JOB SITUATION Job situation prior to studying a Master's degree 
Set 2 MOTIVATION Motivation for taking a Master's course
Set 3 POST-MASTER'S JOB SITUATION Job situation after finishing the Master's course 
Evaluation of satisfaction in relation to one's current job
Set 4 ASSESSMENT OF CAREER PROGRESS  Progress and assessment of one's career progress on completion of the Master's course
Set 5 SKILLS Assessment of the skills developed on the Master's course
Set 6 LIFELONG LEARNING Further study and/or training after finishing the Master's course
Set 7 MOBILITY Experience in academic and/or job mobility
INTERNATIONALISATION Assessment of quality in one's experiences with internationalisation
Set 8 ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS  Information on academic achievement and socio-economic status
Set 9 UNEMPLOYMENT Situation in the case of being unemployed

The data for this survey, which will be gathered in the first quarter of 2014 from a total sample of around 26,000 people (short and long-cycle undergraduate degrees,2 Master's and doctorate degrees), will allow for a solid in-depth analysis of the labour market outcomes of graduates from Catalan universities in an economic context of crisis. This in-depth analysis will be fundamental for comparative studies with the previous surveys (2001, 2005, 2008 and 2011) and will produce results for the three types of graduate from higher studies (short and long-cycle undergraduate degrees, Master's degrees and doctorate/PhD degrees).

The workgroup involved in the design of the graduate destinations survey has produced a pioneering instrument that is adapted to the needs and requirements of study programmes so they can obtain useful information for decision-making and internal quality management. The information that it provides will be of paramount importance in assessing the role of the system of higher education (university system) in Catalonia in relation to the labour market.


1 The members of the workgroup involved in the design of the graduate destinations survey were: Dolors Baena (UB), Mari Paz Álvarez (UAB), Laura Campeny (UPC), Jordi Serret (UPF), Pilar del Acebo (UdG), Mireia Agustí (UdG), Noemí Llorente (UdL), Carme Sala (UdL), Ferran Mañé (URV), Nerea Fernández (UOC), Marianna Zanuy (UIC), Ricard Giramé (UVic), Jordi Garcia Palou (UAO), Remei Areny (URL), Ariadna Barberà (URL), Lorena Bernáldez (AQU Catalunya), Anna Prades (AQU Catalunya), Sebastián Rodríguez (AQU Catalunya) and Maria Giné (AQU Catalunya).

2 Pre-EHEA graduates.


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