Brooks, Ruth (2019) A Critical Exploration of the Influences of Class, Gender and Ethnicity on Student Engagement with Graduate Employment Opportunities. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

From an elite system for the privileged few in the 1960’s, the university sector has grown to a mass higher education system with approximately half of 18-30 year olds now attending university. With government policy viewing a degree as the route to skilled employment, and a competitive labour market due to the higher number of graduates, emphasis has increasingly been placed on employment outcomes upon graduation. Growth in the sector also means that many students are from non-traditional backgrounds where there is no family tradition of attending university which can make it difficult to negotiate the transition from education to employment.

The aim of this thesis is to critically explore the influences of class, gender and ethnicity on student engagement with graduate employment opportunities. Adopting a longitudinal approach, students from fourteen different subject areas with a range of personal background circumstances were interviewed during their final year of study and one year after graduation. Drawing on this qualitative data a thematic analysis of students’ behaviour and attitudes was completed using Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, capital and field.

The findings from this study indicate engagement with the graduate labour market is complex and nuanced with class, gender and ethnicity intersecting to influence outcomes. The findings identified three groups of behaviour based on outcomes. The first group decided to postpone engagement with the graduate labour market until after they had finished their degree. The second group engaged with employment opportunities, but were unable to secure a graduate-level job. The third group also engaged with the graduate labour market securing employment that required a degree. Key factors that contributed towards gaining a graduate job were students completing work experience as part of their degree and moving away from home to live at university. While universities have a role to play in developing employability skills amongst undergraduate students, consideration of wider background factors should be taken into consideration as graduate employment is not equally accessible to all upon completion of their degree.

FINAL THESIS - BROOKS.pdf - Accepted Version
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