NPP Projects

Student Equity and Employability in Higher Education

Lead University: La Trobe University

Lead Researcher: Andrew Harvey

Research Team: Andrew Harvey, Lisa Andrewartha, Daniel Edwards, Julia Clarke and Kimberly Reyes

Year Funded: 2015

Funding Received: $75,997

DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.6988826.v1



This project examined how universities addressed student equity within their employability strategies, in the context of relatively poor graduate outcomes for some groups of underrepresented students. The research included analysis of employability policy in higher education across the United Kingdom, United States and Australia; a desktop analysis of Australian university websites; and a survey of career managers and student union leaders within Australian public universities.

Project outline

  • Ensuring the employability of graduates is fundamental to higher education institutions which, in the Anglo-American world, are being driven by strategies that include Work Integrated Learning (WIL) programs, study abroad experiences, mentoring, and career development services.
  • Employability strategies are being driven by broader changes in education that include: the rise of performance-based funding related to graduate completions and employment; more information becoming available on graduate employment; a decline in the graduate wage premium; ‘credential inflation’; and greater student choice of courses and universities. These changes point to the need for universities to demonstrate the employability of their graduates.
  • Employability activities are stratified, with some student groups benefitting more than others. Study abroad experiences are dominated by higher socio-economic and metropolitan students. WIL experiences, access to career advisors and other employability activities are likely to be skewed against equity students. Inequitable access to employability experiences at university may partly explain why some equity students report poorer graduate outcomes than other students.
  • To examine how universities are addressing student equity within their employability strategies, the project focused on several elements: analysis of employability policy in higher education across the United Kingdom, United States and Australia; analysis of Australian university websites; and surveys of career managers and student union leaders in Australian public universities.

Key findings

  • While universities are developing employability strategies, many remain formative and student equity is often not a systematic part of most strategies. Few universities collect data on the participation of equity groups in their employability experiences. Allocation of specific funds to assist underrepresented groups is sporadic and rarely monitored or evaluated. Students themselves appear marginalised from the development of institutional strategies.
  • If universities do not address stratification issues within employability, gaps in graduate outcomes between equity and non-equity students may widen, while other gaps will be masked by attrition data as some students discontinue university and are lost in outcomes analysis. There is a risk that some universities may see new reporting requirements on employability as an incentive to restrict access to the most ’employable’ students, disadvantaging equity group students.
  • Universities have responsibility for students who enrol but do not complete, while governments need to be cognizant of the relationship between retention and employability, and to consider the outcomes of non-completers.
  • Integration of employability activities in mainstream curricula is essential to graduate outcomes; retention and graduation strategies must shift from the margins to the classroom. The relevance of extra-curricular activities to employability needs to be communicated widely and integrated into university culture.


  • The report made 18 recommendations for university management, university careers services and student unions. A summarised version of some of the major recommendations follows:
    • University management
      • Embed student equity within institutional employability strategies: track participation of equity groups in mainstream and extra-curricular activities; provide financial support to equity students; and evaluate institutional employability strategy against equity outcomes.
      • Embed employability initiatives in mainstream curricula where possible, including: integrated career development learning; common employability skills units; and diverse work experience opportunities within degree structures.
      • Monitor correlations between extra-curricular participation and measures of achievement, completion and graduate outcomes.
      • Provide information widely and early to all students regarding the range of extra-curricular activities available.
      • Work with industry and employer groups to address discrimination against equity students.
    • University careers services
      • Advocate the inclusion of career development planning in mainstream university curricula and develop resources accordingly.
      • Ensure that student take-up of careers services is monitored and evaluated.
      • Provide specific training for careers staff on student equity issues.
      • Promote careers services more broadly, including through Indigenous centres and disability services.
      • Develop tailored careers programs and support, working with Indigenous centres, equity units and disability services.
    • Student unions
      • Advocate the integration of employability initiatives into mainstream curricula, consistent with student preferences and requirements.
      • Provide specific training for union staff on student equity issues within employability.
      • Promote extra-curricular activities, including the use of careers services and participation in clubs and societies to all students, emphasising the potential employability benefits of participation.
      • Promote clubs and societies to low SES students, and other equity groups who may be less likely to participate than non-equity students.

Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.


Posted 7 June 2018