July 2014


The Catalan university system, a driver of differential employability

Anna Prades Nebot - Project manager in AQU Catalunya

The findings of the fifth survey of the labour market outcomes of graduates from Catalan universities were released on 9 July 2014. Studies on the destinations of graduate from Catalan universities are a consequence of the interest of the public universities in Catalonia, through their boards of trustees (consells socials), in the employment outcomes of their graduates. As a result of the scope and regularity of these studies, which are coordinated by AQU Catalunya, they are now used and referred to in international comparative studies.

A survey has been carried out once every three years since 2001 to analyse the transition to the labour market of graduates in Catalonia who graduated three years prior to each survey. In 2014 17,337 graduates were interviewed (First and Second Cycle degrees – diplomatures and llicenciatures, including degrees in Engineering and Architecture), out of a population of 31,279 that graduated in 2010 (2007 in the case of Medicine), which accounts for more than half (55%) of the graduate cohort for that year. The sample error was 0.5%.

As a result, there is a 10-year time series for the labour market outcomes of graduates from Catalan universities that provides an overview of the impact of the trends in the economic cycle on the match between graduates' skills and job requirements (education-job match). 

Table 1. Population, sample and sample error

Table 1. Population, sample and sample error

These figures offer a reliable and realistic clear diagnosis of the transition into employment of graduates from Catalan universities for the development of relevant actions and policies regarding the needs identified in areas such as academic planning and implementation, the redesign of expected and desired learning outcomes, student guidance, etc., as well as to clearly bring across the value of university education to society as a whole.

A summary of the main indicators

  • 8 out of 10 graduates have a job three years after completing their university studies, while 1 out of 10 are unemployed.
  • In general, the time taken for unemployed graduates to find a job has increased: around 30% have been looking for a job for more than one year, while 16% have spent more than two years.
  • With regard to the time taken to find their first job, 5 out of 10 found a job prior to completing their studies; 8 out of 10 found a job within three months of completing their studies (3 percentage points less than in the previous survey); and 1 out of 10 took more than one year to find their first job.
  • 8 out of 10 graduates work in the private sector. Recruitment in the public sector declined by 11 percentage points compared to 2008 (10 percentage points in the last three years), as a consequence of restrictions on public sector recruitment. The proportion of employment in the public sector is lower than that of the 2005 survey.
  • 7 out of 10 graduates work full-time. This is 10 percentage points lower compared to 2008.
  • The decrease in the number of permanent contracts is 10 percentage points compared to 2008: 5 out of 10 graduates have a permanent contract, while 3 out of 10 have a temporary contract. The contractual situation of people working full-time is more stable (58% with permanent contracts and 29% with temporary contracts) compared to those working part-time (30% and 57%).
  • 7 out of 10 people who work needed a university degree for their job, and 8 out of 10 have job duties on a level with their university studies.
  • 4 out of 10 people working full-time earn more than 2,000 euros a month. Only 2 out of 10 earn less than 1,000 euros. Average gross earnings are €1,863 a month.

Employment according to the subject studied at university

One of the determining factors in job quality continues to be the discipline or subject of study. Health, Engineering and Architecture are the subject areas that perform the best, whereas according to the indicators Humanities show the poorest results (employment rate, temporary employment rate, earnings, job satisfaction, etc.). Within each subject area, however, there are considerable differences; for example, the current crisis in public works is reflected in degree courses connected with this sector (Civil Engineering), whereas the results for Industrial Engineering are very good.

Table 2. Employment, unemployment and inactivity according to discipline

 Table 2. Employment, unemployment and inactivity according to discipline

 Table 3. Education-job match according to discipline

Table 3. Education-job match according to discipline

Maximum match is defined as being where, in order to obtain a current job, a specific degree was required and the job duties and responsibilities call for the specific degree qualification. Minimum match is defined as being where, in order to obtain a current job, a degree was not required and the job duties and responsibilities do not call for a university level education. The percentages for the variables do not total 100 because only two possible situations (maximum and minimum match) are taken into account in the table. 

The impact of the economic crisis on the main indicators of the labour market

The impact of the economic crisis can clearly been seen from the following indicators:

  • There has been a 10% decline in the employment rate since 2008. Job losses in the public sector led to a drop of 11 percentage points.
  • The fall in the number of permanent contracts was 10 percentage points.
  • There was a decrease in job quality (the proportion of people with graduate-level job duties and responsibilities).
  • There was a decline in full-time work of 9 percentage points.

Figure 1. Impact of the economic crisis on the main indicators of the labour market (public universities)


This deterioration needs to be contextualised within the period of economic downturn. From a comparative assessment with the other levels of study, it can be stated that the Catalan university system is a driver of differential employability

The social value of university studies

Figures from the official statistics repeatedly show that the higher the level of education, the better the economic activity rate, the employment rate and salary and the lower the unemployment rate. Furthermore, the differential in these indicators or, in other words, the added value of having studied to a higher level, has increased in countries where there is an economic crisis (AQU, 2014; OCDE, 2013; Fundación CYD, 2012).

The following graph shows that the difference in the employment rate between those with a higher education and those with just a primary education in 2008 was 24 percentage points in favour of those with higher studies, and that this same difference in the first quarter of 2014 was 36 percentage points.

Figure 2. Trends in the employment rate. Population 25-44 years old (Survey of the working population)


Satisfaction with university degree studies

In addition, the assessment by graduates from Catalan universities of their university studies also improved, very possibly as a consequence of the efforts made by the universities to adapt and come into line with the European Higher Education Area.

Figure 3. Assessment by graduates of their level of learning in terms of core competences (average)


7 out of 10 graduates would choose the same degree if they were to start their studies over again. Although Humanities is the most unfavourable area as regards job quality, it has one of the highest percentages for those who would repeat the same degree, and came second only to Health Sciences.

Figure 4. Percentage of graduates who would take the same degree if they were to start their university studies over again


Prospects for the future

We now have a clear diagnosis of the situation and it needs to be brought to people's attention, and not just to those responsible for academic decision-making, academic planning and implementation, designing action plans for tutorials or redefining competence profiles, but society as a whole as well.

Society has to know that university studies, while not a guarantee of a skilled job, are certainly a good way of increasing one's opportunities of obtaining one. Society also needs to be aware of the different occupational profiles of different degrees, together with the fact that in the current situation it is impossible to envisage more than four years in advance which degree courses will offer better opportunities for employability.

Guidance is therefore a key factor, not just to ensure that a choice matches the motivations and aptitudes of new students, but also to ensure that graduates, on completing their studies, are in possession of the skills they will require in order to manage their professional careers within a context of uncertainty. In this regard, it is essential for graduates to have a realistic understanding of their skills and employability. 

For more information:



Generalitat de Catalunya

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