Mind the Gap!’ Exploring the post-graduation outcomes and employment mobility of individuals who are first in their family to complete a university degree
2019 NCSEHE Research Fellowship final report
Sarah O’Shea, University of Wollongong
This report details the findings and recommendations from the NCSEHE Research Fellowship entitled ‘Mind the Gap!’ Exploring the post-graduation outcomes and employment mobility of individuals who are first in their family to complete a university degree. This one-year study explored how learners intersected by a range of equity categories entered the employment market and how individuals experienced this entry qualitatively. Adopting a mixed methods approach, the study analysed statistics related to post-graduation outcomes for the general student population, comparing them to those of cohorts from key equity groups, including students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds, students from rural and remote areas and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. This data was complemented by qualitative interviews and survey responses provided by recent graduates and alumni, all of whom were first in their family to come to university. Stakeholders from Australia and the UK also provided input into this research via both surveys and interviews.
The 12 key recommendations derived from this study are outlined below according to the targeted audience:
Key stakeholder recommendations
1. University staff across careers/support services in conjunction with academic/teaching staff need to explicitly and repeatedly evidence the importance of participation in extracurricular opportunities (i.e. volunteer experiences; work-related or internship opportunities) whilst students are undertaking degrees. These opportunities should also be financially subsidised to enable everyone to participate.
2. University marketing and institutional administrators need to be upfront and clear about the length of time it takes to become established in a degree-related field of work. This clear messaging has to be complemented by the provision of timely support (both practical advice and financial resourcing) as students transition into the workforce.
3. Careers services in partnership with academic and technology developers (both in university and industry) should develop ways to move beyond traditional models of internships or “work experience” as being place-based, block, and daytime models. Seeking partnership funding or institutional grants to explore how virtual reality can be utilised to create workplace settings or scenarios will be key for future employability.
4. University equity and outreach providers should ensure that the “transition out” phase of the student life cycle is as supported and scaffolded as the “transition in”. Support should be offered by a diversity of mediums, in various modalities and timed to critical stages in the post-graduation journey. Support should not only be individuated but also focus on the groups most at risk of un/underemployment.
5. Independent university peak bodies should provide a realistic cost-benefit analysis for different fields of study so that students can make informed choices about the qualifications they pursue. Ongoing interrogation of the longitudinal “opportunity costs” of gaining a degree need to be prioritised to ensure that learners are clearly informed about the cost benefits of different qualifications.
6. University administration areas or policymakers need to ensure that student enrolment data on parent/guardian’s highest qualification level is accurately collected. This should include “unpacking” terms such as “first-in-family (FiF)” or “first generation” to ensure that all data is clarified consistently.
7. Government Departments (Australian Government Department of Education/Department of Industry, Innovation and Science) should work collaboratively to link statistics on employer demand, work patterns and degree-work transitions.
8. Government survey administrators need to consider the timing of the Australian Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) and include opportunity for longitudinal measurement of university outcomes. Maintaining connection with graduates through critical life stages is now quite feasible given the availability of social media and also mobile applications: for example, via an app that would send graduates a short quiz to check in on their “job health” status.
Research and data collection recommendations
9. The Australian GOS needs to include measures that focus on the quality and nature of graduate work. Questions that relate to the relevance and type of work obtained as well as how the job was gained are required to provide a more in-depth understanding of graduate trajectories.
10. Researchers in the careers and business fields need to foreground a more inclusive understanding of the skills and attributes that can benefit future employability, such as the resilience and determination that many equity or FiF students already possess.
11. Funding bodies should support research that seeks to consider and measure the more subtle, intangible or embodied benefits of higher education.
12. The Australian GOS needs to include questions that capture data on how participation in internships may affect employment outcomes, particularly for those from equity backgrounds. This includes asking explicit questions related to participation in internships and co-curricular opportunities so that participation can be linked to equity status and future employability.