What is expected of higher education graduates in the 21st century?

Rolf Van den VeldenMartin Humburg

Professor Rolf van der Velden and Martin Humberg, Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA), University of Maastricht

5 November 2012

Expectations towards higher education institutions and their graduates have always been high. For centuries, universities have been the place where higher order knowledge and skills have been developed, refined and nurtured.

Never before, however, have expectations towards higher education and its graduates been so strongly expressed and explicitly defined – in particular by employers. This paper examines the skill set graduates are increasingly expected to possess, and the role played by and increasingly expected of higher education in developing them. We identify six trends which form the basis of the changing role of graduates in economic life. These trends are the knowledge society, increasing uncertainty, the ICT revolution, high performance workplaces, globalization, and the change of the economic structure. By changing the nature and range of tasks graduates are expected to fulfil in today’s economy, these trends generate new and intensify traditional skill demands, which we summarize as professional expertise, flexibility, innovation and knowledge management, mobilization of human resources, international orientation, and entrepreneurship.

We introduce these six trends knowing that there is no consensus among researchers on how many independent trends there are, let alone how to name and define them. We also recognize that in reality these trends do not stand isolated but are strongly interlinked, with the ICT revolution being the main driver of the others. However, we are convinced that the categorization of trends and resulting skill demands we present serve as a useful tool to examine what is expected of graduates in the 21st century, and what are the drivers of these skill demands. Rather than providing a ‘recipe’ as to how higher education institutes should adapt their courses and what actions they should take we sketch some general guidelines that can help higher education institutes to develop their own strategy to meeting these skills challenges.

About the speakers
Rolf van der Velden is professor at Maastricht University and program director Education and Occupational Career at the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA). He is fellow of the Interuniversity Center for Educational Research (ICO). He supervised several (inter)national studies on the transition from school to work. He recently coordinated the international REFLEX project (www.reflexproject.org) and was advisor on the related HEGESCO project (www.hegesco.org). Currently he is one of the coordinators in the PIAAC project (www.oecd.org/els/employment/piaac). He is member of several research associations in the field of social stratification, education and labour market. In 1983 he finished his study sociology at the University of Groningen. From 1983 till 1990 he worked at the Institute for Educational Research in Gronin­gen, where he held the position of Head of the Division of Labour Market Research. In 1991 he finished his Ph.D. thesis on ‘Social Background and School-success’. He has published on many studies in the field of education, training and labour market. His current research interests include international comparisons in the transition from school to work, competence development during education, the long term effects of education on occupational careers, overeducation and skills mismatches and the effect of generic and specific competences on labour market outcomes.

Martin Humburg is a PhD-student at the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA)at Maastricht University. He studied International Relations in Berlin, Paris, Dresden and Lille and holds a Master degree in International Relations from Free University Berlin (2006). Before joining ROA, Martin worked as a research associate at the Central Evaluation and Accreditation Agency Hannover (ZEvA) where he managed quality audits of higher education study programmes. His PhD thesis focuses on the role of skills in graduates’ transition from higher education to work. As a ROA researcher, Martin is currently involved in the OECD PIAAC project, the Cedefop Skillsnet network on skill forecasting and a EU-funded project on employers’ perspective on graduate employability.

Listen to the seminar presentation (45 mins approx)
Download the slides as a pdf file (with audio timings)

This seminar was convened by Professor Ken Mayhew, Director of SKOPE