EPRSauthor By / March 26, 2014

Are universities fostering graduate employability?

EU faces a paradox: the youth employment rate stands at 23% while there are around 2 million unfilled vacancies across…

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EU faces a paradox: the youth employment rate stands at 23% while there are around 2 million unfilled vacancies across Europe, and a high number of employers cannot find the right mix of skills in the job market, especially with regard to e-skills.

Many employers hold the inability of the educational system to provide work-related skills responsible for this increasing ‘mismatch’. Higher Education Authorities around Europe have put employability at the centre of their national HE strategies. However students contend that higher education should be steered by the needs of society rather than that of the job market and ask whether employability should be part of the university mission. HE institutions and academics, asked to prove the relevance or utility of their teaching and research for societal and economic needs, have concerns about preserving academic freedom and autonomy.

Graduates wanted
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The EU strategy for Higher Education (HE) supports HE institutions in keeping up with the job market through:

This keysource compiles a selection of resources on issues related to graduate employability. See our related posts: Quality traineeships: Facilitating young people’s transition to employment (January 2014); Promoting entrepreneurship through education (December 2013); Learning and skills – Can they better match employer needs? (November 2013).


Quality and relevance in Higher Education / DG Culture & Education. Overview of European commission’s actions in support of modernising education programmes.

University Business Cooperation/ DG Culture & Education. Overview of EC support for cooperation between businesses and HE institutions.

Graduate employability: a review of conceptual and empirical themes/ Michael Tomlinson in Higher Education Policy (2012) 25, 407–431. This paper provides an overview of some of the dominant themes in the area of graduate employment and employability over the past decade.

European Institutions

European Commission

Communication on Supporting growth and jobs—an agenda for the modernisation of Europe’s Higher Education Ssstems, September 2011. The strategy aims to boost graduate numbers, to improve the quality and relevance of HE and to maximise graduates’ employability.

Improving the quality of teaching and learning in Europe’s higher education institutions / High Level Group on the modernisation of higher education, June 2013. The group makes 16 recommendations which include a call for mandatory certified training for professors and other HE teaching staff, and more focus on helping students to develop entrepreneurial and innovative skills.

Report on progress in Quality Assurance in Higher Education, February 2014. The report highlights that, although progress has been achieved, further reforms are needed to ensure a ‘quality culture’ so that teaching is more closely aligned with labour market realities and societal needs. The publication follows a first progress report published in 2009.

European Parliament

Modernising Europe’s higher education systems. In April 2012 the EP adopted a resolution which called on HE institutions to:

  • create new fields of study that reflect the needs of the labour market and , develop programmes of study covering both general knowledge and specific professional skills
  • monitor trends in labour market requirements in order to reflect more accurately future needs in terms of learning opportunities.


Council conclusions of 28 November 2011 on the modernisation of higher education. The Council calls for efforts to strengthen links between higher education institutions, employers and labour market institutions in order to take greater account of labour market needs in study programmes, to improve the match between skills and jobs, and to develop active labour market policies aimed at promoting graduate employment.

Council conclusions of 11 May 2012 on the employability of graduates from education and training. Based on a Commission proposal the Council agreed that by 2020 the share of employed among the 20-34 year olds graduates having left education and training no more than three years before the reference year should be at least 82% as compared to 76.5% in 2010. This benchmark was developed by the Joint Research Centre’s Centre for Research on Lifelong Learning.


This list of selected publications on the topic provides references to studies, articles and reports available on the internet either by subscription only or based on open access principle.

Student advancement of graduates employability – SAGE. This pan-European project aims at increasing the knowledge of the effects of European higher education reforms implementation on the graduates’ employability. The summary of the results of their survey of European students’ unions was released in March 2014, other project reports will be published shortly.

Matching skills and labour market needs building social partnerships for better skills and better Jobs/ World Economic Forum, January 2014. This policy paper recommends adopting “a ‘matching skills’ approach during the crisis, which will provide the right skills needed in the labour market, while generating the necessary economic dynamism to generate new jobs”.

The employability of Higher Education graduates: the employers’ perspective / European Commission, October 2013. This study sets out to get beneath the surface of what employers’ believe makes graduates employable – and why one graduate might have the edge over another.

The employability of young graduates in Europe: analysis of the ET2020 benchmark/ European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 2012. This report aims at analysing the determinants of the employability of the individuals targeted by the benchmark.

Higher Education, employability and competitiveness /S. Pavlin and M. Svetlicic (2012) in Hacettepe University Journal of Education v.43: 386-397. This paper studies the relationship between competitiveness and HE systems in Europe. It explores whether more competitive countries have developed more labour-market-oriented systems that thereby give their graduates greater short term employability potential.

Perspectives on Higher Education and the labour market. Review of international policy developments/ E. de Weert, Centre for Higher Education policy studies, December 2011. This report explores international policy trends regarding the relationship between higher education and the labour market, and considers developments in Germany, France, the UK, Scandinavian countries (notably Sweden), Australia, and for certain aspects Austria and Switzerland.

Supporting graduate employability: HE Institutions practice in other countries / UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, June 2011. This study explores the development of employability skills in the United Kingdom and in an international setting.

Higher Education and Employability of Graduates: will Bologna make a difference? / E. Edvardsson Stiwne, M. Gaio Alves (2010) in European Educational Research Journal 9 (1), 32-44. This article focuses on the relationship between higher education, employability of graduates and students’ satisfaction with their studies, drawing on European statistics, as well as on data collected at national and/or institutional level in Portugal and Sweden.

Universities between the expectations to generate professionally competences and academic freedom experiences from Europe / U. Teichler (2010) in Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, v.77: 421–428. This article a close look at European debates on employability, revealing that there is no consensus emerging in favour of a subordination of the HE curricula to the current presumed demands of the employment system.



Closing the gap between business and education, JA-YE 2011. This survey of more than 500 business leaders across Europe found that more than two-thirds believe that their countries’ education systems are either not at all successful or not very successful when it comes to developing financial and entrepreneurial skills amongst young people.

Employers’ perception of graduate employability – Eurobarometer 304 / European Commission, December 2010. This Flash Eurobarometer provides insights into the needs and perceptions of graduate recruiters by monitoring the opinions of staff in companies throughout Europe with at least 50 employees across a range of business sectors.

European Students Union

Graduate employability and the European Higher Education Area: an institutional responsibility? ? B. Carapinha, ESU Bologna Process Committee, September 2007. This presentation recommends a student-centred approach to the issue of graduate employability.

Graduate employability and the social good/ M.Tolentino Frederiksen and N. Vuksanović, July 2013 in University World News Issue 280.”Employability has to be regarded as a concept that is outside of the economic growth bubble. Higher education should not be steered by the labour market, but by the needs of society. Higher education is a human right and, as such, it must be available to everyone.”

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