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Labour market results: masters

The employment outcomes of master's graduates
Article by Anna Prades Nebot, elButlletí 79 AQU Catalunya

La inserció laboral dels titulats de màsterThe fifth survey on the employment outcomes of the graduate population from Catalan universities was carried out in 2014 and for the first time included graduates of Master's programmes. This decision was made because of the flexibility of Master's degrees, which makes them a good instrument that enable Master's graduates to adapt according to needs and requirements in the workplace.

The study analyses the employment outcomes of 7,647 graduates, out of a total of 16,218 who graduated at the end of the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 academic years, or 47% of the graduate population, with a sample error of 0.81%.

The survey covered graduates of 495 Master's programmes with 60-120 ECTS credits, which were analysed according to a grouping of 29 subjects.

Given that these Master's programmes were running prior to the introduction of undergraduate (Bachelor-level degrees) courses under the Bologna scheme, the students were therefore graduates of pre-Bologna undergraduate degrees.

This article includes the main conclusions set out in the report The employment outcomes of master’s degree holders from universities in catalonia.

Population: Master’s graduates in Catalonia

Aside from their content, another difference of Master's degrees is the student profile. Such a diversity means that a comparison of the employment outcomes of different Master's programmes is much more complex and results in less representative aggregate measurements according to discipline, with big differences according to subject and particularly in each subject being concealed.

Figure 1 shows fours factors of diversity:

Figure 1. Factors leading to diversity in Master's programmes

Factors de diversitat de màsters

1. Motivations

Different reasons that motivate people to take a Master's degree include improving one's career development and/or job opportunities (instrumental motivation), as a complement to one's education and/or training, or to go on and take a doctorate degree (expressive motivation).

For example, graduates of Master's programmes in Chemistry stated their motivation as being to go on and do doctoral studies (7.4 on average), whereas for Master's programmes in Teacher Training the mean was 1.4. There is therefore an enormous difference in the aims and intentions of students.

2. Nationality

The percentage of international students ranged from 46% in Modern Languages and Philology to 3% in Healthcare subjects (excluding Medicine and Dentistry).

The place of origin also varied considerably. For example, subjects in Philology had a higher percentage of students from Asia, whereas in Political Science there were more students from Europe and North America.

3. Interdisciplinarity

30% of graduates took a Master's degree in the same discipline as their qualifying undergraduate degree. This percentage ranged between 75% for Master's graduates in Teacher Training and 2% in Law.

There were various reasons for graduates changing from one discipline to another, including: pursuit of a specific profession (in the case of Master's programmes in Teacher Training); the acquisition of skills in management and financial administration for those already in managerial positions; specialisation in a professional field or field of research (for example, students of Biology taking a Master's programme in Medicine) and the pursuit of personal interests (Philosophy and Humanities).

4. Continuous and discontinuous academic careers

There were two clearly distinctive groups among the graduates interviewed: those with continuous academic careers between their pre-Master's and Master's studies, with an average age of 31 at the time of the survey (49% of the sample), and those who had worked full-time prior to taking their Master's, with an average age of 38 (51% of the sample). It would therefore appear that the function of a Master's degree is equally divided between a more in-depth, specialised training and continuing education and training for those already working at professional level.

Figure 2. Work experience prior to taking a Master's degree

Trajectòria laboral prèvia

It is of mention that the current framework of skills in the Spanish Qualifications Framework for Higher Education (MECES) does not account for such diversity. This mismatch between the actual situation and the regulatory framework leads to disparities in programme validation (ex ante accreditation) in the Master's cycle of higher education.

Satisfaction with international Master's programmes

An international Master’s programme of study is defined as one with a percentage of international students that is equal to or higher than 40% of the total

Internationalisation is increasingly important in Catalan universities, especially in Master's and doctoral programmes. Leask (2009) defines internationalisation as "the incorporation of an international and intercultural dimension into the preparation, delivery and outcomes of a programme of study".

The Master's graduates survey includes a series of six questions aimed at assessing the degree to which international Master's programmes actually provide students with an internationalised education.

The findings show there is clearly room for improvement in this regard.

Graph 1. Assessment of the dimensions of internationalisation of the Master's programme

Dimensions internacionalitzadores

Against this background there is a wide variety of situations however. For example, the international vision (referred to in tools for education abroad as, for example, global awareness, worldview, etc.), which according to Leask and Roy (Leask, 2009; Roy, 2014) is the most important element for defining a Master's programme as an international experience, ranged from 7.3 in Political Sciences to 2.2 in Labour Relations.

The survey also includes a second set of eight items on the services offered to students studying abroad. The findings here appear to indicate that the services of student reception, orientation and guidance offered to international students in universities in Catalonia are of a higher quality than universities where Master's students of Spanish nationality studied abroad.

Graph 2. Assessment by students of Spanish nationality and international students of the services offered

Valoració dels serveis

Employment outcomes

The higher the educational level of a student, the higher his/her chances are of finding employment

As the level of higher education increases, the employment rate goes up and the unemployment rate decreases.

Graph 3. Employed, unemployed and inactive

Taxa d'ocupació

The data from the labour force survey (EPA) show that Spain is among the countries where the higher the educational level of a student, the higher his/her chances are of finding employment (Pastor, Peraita, 2014; European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2015).

There are considerable differences in the employment rate between different degree subjects, ranging from 94% in Sports Management and Practice to 72% in Fine Arts. It is interesting to note that, among the five subjects with the highest employment rate, there were subjects in the Social Sciences (Sports Management and Practice, Economics, and Business Management and Administration), Engineering (Information and Communication, Civil Engineering) and Health Sciences (Medicine and Dentistry). In the same way, among the five subjects with the lowest employment rate, there were subjects in Engineering (Agricultural Engineering), Health Sciences (Veterinary Science) and Humanities (Geography and History, Fine Arts). This would seem to contradict the situation in the main disciplines.

Factors affecting the probability of employment

The following figure gives a summary of a multivariable model that looks at the variables influencing the probability of a graduate being employed (logistic regression model). From the available variables, the one most likely to have an impact on the probability of being employed is the interaction between age and previous work history: those over 40 and who worked full time prior to taking their Master's degree were 2.4 times more likely to be employed than those who weren't.

Figure 3. Variables having more or less impact on the probability of being employed 

Variables que influeixen en la probabilitat d'estar ocupat

Regardless of age and previous work history, those taking a Master's degree in Engineering (excluding Architecture and Civil Engineering) were 2.2 times more likely to be employed (odds ratio = 2.2). Taking a Master's degree in Economics or Law increased the likelihood by 1.8 times, and 1.7 times in the case of Health Sciences.

Study at either a Spanish or foreign university also had an impact, although less so (odds ratio = 0.75 and 0.55, respectively). One possible hypothesis is that those who change their place of residence to study somewhere else are likely to have a higher level of soft skills.

Gender, nationality and the level of parents' education were not predictors of the probability of being employed.

The higher the level of education, the higher the salary

More or better education can lead to higher salaries. One variable that may influence the outcomes of a higher level of education is a graduate's age, which should be taken into account on each level.1

Graph 4. Gross annual earnings of full-time employed graduates


Education-job skills match and Master's degrees

The specific match for Master's degrees was slightly lower than for the other two levels of education. As far as graduate-level job tasks and responsibilities are concerned, however, the match for Master's degrees was in an intermediate position relative to doctoral and Bachelor's degrees.

Graph 5. Education-job skills match


Graduate satisfaction with the Master's degree programme

Skills specific to a Master's degree were above a pass level in accordance with the Spanish Qualifications Framework for Higher Education (MECES). The most highly rated skills were documentation, critical thinking and theoretical skills. On the other hand, English did not appear to play a large role in the Master's programmes analysed, although as to be expected it was more evident in Master's programmes of an international nature (a mean of 4 compared to 2.7 for non-international programmes).

With regard to the skills with the highest deficit, or the difference between the level of each skill acquired and its usefulness in work, it can be seen that English was the only skill with a deficit higher than 1 (2.4), whereas for problem solving it was 0.8 and for ethical and personal responsibility 0.6.

Graph 6. Rating of the level of each skill acquired and its usefulness in work

Valoració i utilitat

Intention to retake the same Master's programme

66% of graduates would choose to retake the same Master's programme if they had to study again. This percentage was lower compared to doctoral and Bachelor's degrees.

Graph 7. Intention to retake the same degree programme according to level of higher education

Repetir carrera 

This percentage again conceals a considerable heterogeneity according to subjects, which ranged from 75% in Physics and Mathematics to 51% in Veterinary Science.

Graph 8. Intention to retake the same Master's programme according to subject

Reptir màster per subàmbits

The key to a graduate's intention to retake the same degree programme was the level of theoretical skills acquired

The graph shows that there is a correlation between the level of satisfaction with a subject taken (the percentage of those who would retake the same Master's programme) and the level of theoretical skills acquired (r = .61).

This is the most influential variable encountered using a multivariable model to explain a graduate's intention to retake the same Master's programme, which accounted for 38% of the variance. According to this multiple regression model, for each point of theoretical skills (which range from 0 to 10) there is a 5.6 percentage point increase in the intention of graduates to retake the same degree programme (i.e. an impact of between 0 and 56 per cent).

Graph 9. Satisfaction and level of theoretical skills acquired

Satisfacció amb la foramció

Technical specifications

PDF PDF Survey

Survey carried out: 2014

Participating universities: UB, UAB, UPC, UPF, UdG, UdL, URV, UOC, URL, UVic-UCC, UIC and UAO CEU. 

Reference population and sample: The reference population was 7,647 graduates, out of a total of 16,218 who graduated at the end of the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 academic years, a figure which accounts for 47% of the Master’s graduate population, with a sample error of 0.81%.


EUROPEAN COMMISSION/EACEA/EURYDICE (2015) The European Higher Education Area in 2015: Bologna Process Implementation Report. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

LEASK, B. (2009) "Using formal and informal curricula to improve interactions between home and international students". In: Journal of Studies in International Education, 13(2), 205-221.

PASTOR, J. M.; PERAITA, C. "La inserción laboral de los universitarios españoles". In: Revista de la Asociación de Sociología de la Educación, 7(1), 252-266.

ROY, P.; WANDSCHNEIDER, E.; STEGLITZ, I. (2014) "Assessing Education Abroad Outcomes: A Review of the BEVI, IDI, and GPI". In: White Paper. East Lansing: Michigan State University Office of Study Abroad.