April 2016


Equity for graduates in access to and going on from university

Sandra Fachelli, Jordi Planas, Albert Sŕnchez-Gelabert, Mijail Figueroa, Marina Elias, Dani Torrents and Lidia Daza - Education and Work Research Group (GRET), Autonomous University of Barcelona/UAB

Equitat en l'accés i en la inserció professional dels graduats universitarisDirected by Helena Troiano, Education and Work Research Group (GRET), Autonomous University of Barcelona/UAB, the study consists of four chapters written by different authors.

PDF document Chapter 1. Trends in the employment outcomes of graduates: from expansion to on-going crisis [Spanish]. Sandra Fachelli and Jordi Planas

This chapter analyses trends in the employment outcomes of three cohorts of graduates from Catalan universities who were interviewed three years after graduating in surveys carried out in 2008, 2011 and 2014.

The main hypothesis of the study was that the crisis has slowed down the transition of graduates from university to the top end of the labour market, which is characterised by jobs that are stable, skilled and better paid.

The general conclusion of the study is that the transition of graduates from university to the higher end of the primary labour market has slowed down and that this took place in two stages. The first was between 2008 and 2011, when the effect was minimal, i.e. there was an increase in the rate of unemployment, but the actual working conditions of employed graduates did not deteriorate. In the second between 2011 and 2014, however, the slow-down was much more pronounced. A drop in employment in the private sector and the lack of jobs being created in the public sector led to many graduates being stuck in the lower end of the primary labour market, where working conditions were good but in jobs that were either not well matched with their studies or in the secondary labour market where their jobs were less highly skilled and the working conditions less favourable, or they were unemployed.

It is the authors opinion that the situation should be set in context and that it is increasingly probable that the trend will shift back to graduates obtaining more desirable jobs at the higher end of the primary labour market. This is based on the analysis of the following variables: unemployment (25.93% in general in Spain compared to 12.4% for graduates); the fact that in 2014 64% of recent graduates were in jobs at the top of the occupational pyramid; plus the crisis has not reversed the process of equity insofar as social origin was not substantial enough as a factor to account for the differences in employment outcomes.

PDF document Chapter 2. The effects of studying and working at the same time on academic results and employment outcomes [Catalan]. Albert Sànchez-Gelabert, Mijail Figueroa and Marina Elias

This chapter provides an in-depth analysis of the trends in the phenomenon of studying and working at the same time and its effect on student transcripts (academic records) and graduate employment outcomes fours years after graduating. A comparison is made between full-time students and students working full or part-time in jobs either connected or not connected with their studies.

The main conclusions are as follows:

  • There is no correlation between the student transcript (grades) and subsequent employment outcomes (analysed using the Occupational Quality Index).
  • The students with the best academic outcomes were full-time students. Among students who worked, the findings show a big difference according to whether their jobs were connected with their degree course subject, where there was a negative impact on their performance (achievement), or where their job was not connected with their studies, in which case the impact on their performance was positive. This finding may be due to the fact that, in the case of the first group, the focus of the students’ attention was their job, not their degree studies, whereas students in the second group placed more importance on their studies, in spite of the fact that they were working.
  • As regards the Occupational Quality Index, the students with the highest scores were those who combined their degree studies with a related full-time job, whereas those with the lowest scores had a non-related part-time job. The pattern shows that it is better to either have a related job – either full or part-time – or be a full-time student.
  • The study introduces and analyses the impact of the socio-demographic variable of the parents’ level of education. As regards student transcripts, it is of note that students whose parents only had a primary education and who worked and studied at the same time obtained better grades than the rest. With regard to the Occupational Quality Index, there was a decrease in the importance of social origin in the case of students with related full-time jobs.

PDF document Chapter 3. The social composition of access to university [Catalan]. Helena Troiano, Dani Torrents and Albert Sànchez-Gelabert

The university system in Catalonia has undergone a series of institutional changes in recent years that coincided in time with the outbreak of a prolonged period of economic crisis. Three changes in particular stand out:

  • The Bologna plan and the subsequent reform of degree programmes and learning and teaching methodologies;
  • Modification of the regulations governing access, which has affected students with advanced vocational qualifications (CFGS);
  • The increase of fees (up to 66%) in the 2012-13 academic year, which made Catalan universities the sixth most expensive in Europe, together with the fact that the conditions have become harder for students to obtain and reobtain grants as the system is now performance-based.

The effect that these changes have had on access to university for different social groups is of major interest, both academically speaking and socially, as they directly affect the sense of justice linked to educational and life opportunities, and consequently the common ground that contributes to social cohesion.

This report analyses student behaviour and access to university during the period spanning the economic crisis. The variables studied include:

  • The general admission rate: there was an increase in admissions to university between 2005-2011 due to the contraction of the labour market. 2012 was a tipping point, with the increase in fees, which was followed by a downward trend, although there was no drop in the admissions of students of a lower social status.
  • The effect of socio-demographic variables on enrolment and the chosen field of study, such as social origin and the parents’ level of education: students of families from low socio-economic backgrounds chose subjects and degrees with lower fees (such as Humanities and Social Sciences), with the exception of Health Sciences. There was also a tendency for them to choose degree courses that later on result in lower incomes, but with faster entry into work.
  • Gender: over the period studied, the number of male student enrolments was higher than that of females, thereby slowing down the process of feminisation in the universities.

PDF document Chapter 4. The transition to university [Catalan]. Helena Troiano and Lidia Daza

One of the key areas studied in the analysis of unequal opportunities for education is the crossroads in the education system where students find themselves having to make the decision whether to go on to the next stage and continue studying or not. A prerequisite in being able to make this decision is having satisfactorily completed the previous level of education and thereby being in possession of the necessary qualification to be able to go on to a higher level. An analysis of the differences in obtaining the necessary qualification, and in the decision to go on to the next level, form part of this overall study on inequalities in the process of transition.

The study focuses on the factors that determine the transition to higher education. It starts with an analysis of the differences among students in passing the upper secondary school leaving examination (the baccalaureate or a vocational education qualification) in order to go on to a higher education institution. This is followed by an analysis of effective access to university.

The data on which the analysis is based were from the Youth Survey of Catalonia (EJC) carried out by the Government of Catalonia’s Observatori Català de la Joventut (Ministry of Social and Family Welfare) (2002).

The factors analysed included socio-demographic characteristics, subjective variables referring to assessments made by students of their studies and a whole series of actions and attitudes of actors in the immediate social circle, such as family members, friends and teachers, and variables relating to the student’s academic pathway.

The conclusions of the study include the following:

  • The level of education of a student’s family is more important than its occupation as far as the influence these have on a student passing the upper secondary school leaving certificate (baccalaureate) is concerned. The student’s attitude to his/her studies is also important, together with the effect of encouragement from actors in the student’s immediate social circle, especially teachers and friends.
  • Obtaining a vocational education qualification: there is no clear impact of the variables analysed. Difficulties in interpreting the variables may be due to the variety of profiles of students who take vocational programmes.
  • Access to university: none of the factors with an influence on a student obtaining the upper secondary school leaving certificate (baccalaureate) – neither the family’s social or cultural capital, nor the impact of other agents – carry any weight here, where the most important factor is the parents’ occupation, or the variable linked to the family’s economic resources. Another determining factor is the student’s background, with variables such as path of admission to university, grades and the student’s subjective appraisal of his/her studies. 

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