M. Mackay

University of Portsmouth (UNITED KINGDOM)
Technological innovation and the acceleration of global markets have distorted local employment opportunities across Europe. Permanent work contracts are increasingly scarce and uncertainty overshadows graduate career prospects (Barnett 2007). Arguably, university graduates are better positioned, than non-graduates, to withstand adverse labour market conditions. This begs the question: how do graduates view the situation? The study scrutinises student experiences of postgraduate education through narrative accounts of study routines and work expectations. The empirical research illustrates the practical educational benefits of fostering graduates’ agility to develop self-knowledge to face shifting employment changes.

A mixed methods approach was adopted using a survey questionnaire of 202 respondents and narrative accounts of 40 postgraduates in a UK university. This formed part of a wider collaborative research project, of 11 universities, publicly supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Collected data was analysed through a theoretical lens of identity work (Karreman and Alvesson 2001). Findings indicate diverse experiences: some struggled to balance competing demands, others were anxious about financial pressures and job searches, while a few maintained a deliberate discipline focus and enjoyed a delight in learning inquiry. Students with a coherent self-image of adaptability perceived learning as a transformative opportunity for growth despite an uncertain future (Cranton 2011). Students who framed graduate education as an evolving, fluid process of self-development were more open to serendipitous opportunities and alternative future paths. This research extends the employability literature, of the use-value of education, to the notion of learning as a lifetime project. These findings offer two important pedagogical insights for educators, tutors and pastoral care providers: the value of conscious experimentation with mental framing and the psychological benefits of identity coherence. A practice implication for institutions is to cultivate specific pedagogical approaches, such as coaching, mentoring and interactive dialogue that foster learners’ growth in self-knowledge and personal resilience.

[1] Barnett, R. (2007). A Will to Learn: Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Maidenhead: The Society for Research in Higher Education & OU Press.
[2] Cranton, P. (2011). A transformative perspective on the scholarship of teaching and learning. Higher Education Research and Development, 30, 75-86.
[3] Karreman, D and Alvesson, M. (2001). Making Newsmakers: Conversational Identity at Work, Organization Studies, 22 (1), 59-89.