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Meeting the demands of graduates’ work: from a higher education for employment to a higher education for performance

Higgins, Holly 2016. Meeting the demands of graduates’ work: from a higher education for employment to a higher education for performance. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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There is a general consensus around the kinds of jobs graduates might be expected to progress into once they complete their university education. Teaching, law and journalism are regularly cited as classic examples of ‘knowledge-based’ occupations that comprise the kinds of abstract problems and non-standard tasks that require independently minded, creative, and highly educated workers. However, there is very little research exploring graduates’ work post- graduation, and that which there is tends to focus on skill utilisation or the demand for, and deployment of, graduate skills in the labour market. This study takes a different approach, asking what it is about a particular type of work that might mean that the people performing it would benefit from a higher education. It draws on findings from qualitative interviews, exploring the nature and demands of these three occupations to conduct a critical analysis of the assumptions that underpin the skills-based, employment-focused model of higher education that governs current understanding of the relationship between higher education and work, and the role it can and should play in preparing students to meet the demands of these kinds of jobs. The thesis finds that journalists, teachers and solicitors are required to exercise a large amount of discretion in the interpretation and performance of partially and imprecisely specified work tasks and situations, but that this discretion is mediated by their employment circumstances, and complicated by the uncertain and unpredictable nature and conditions of their work. Acting purposefully in these conditions of uncertainty is central to successful performance of these jobs, but extremely demanding of their occupants. It concludes that higher education remains uniquely placed to make an important contribution to students’ preparation for this kind of work, but that this potential can only be realised by rejecting the priorities and focus of a higher education for employment guided by recruiters, and pursuing instead a higher education for performance that focuses on the knowledge and dispositions that will be of most value to students.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 6 February 2017
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2022 16:18

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