Social mobility and professional development – a study of two pathways in higher education


Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding (ISBN)


The main purpose of higher education is to deliver social mobility via acquired qualifications and a variety of ‘employability skills’. Government priorities bear this out, reflecting its policy of linking degree success to the UK’s future economic growth (Wolf, 2002) and highlighting how increased social mobility offers public and personal benefits. Moreover, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals require HEIs to consider ethical impacts upon the wider community, in terms of alleviating poverty and promoting social inclusion and equality. In England, this is most clearly evidenced by the new Teaching Excellence Framework, with Student Outcomes used to help measure quality and ‘value’ of a University education. ‘Graduate employment’ is a key metric, so that the ability to generate ‘work-ready’ (Dhakal, et al. 2019), professionally ‘employable students’ and ‘ideal’ future employees (Allen et al, 2013) has become an over-arching concern within the sector. However, there is no generic blueprint that can deliver employability: ‘whole person models of experiential learning’ instead frame employability as ‘integrative, reflective and transitional’ (Eden, 2014: 266). As Newcombe and Moutafi (2009) argued, many employers now seek more than traditional ‘CV’-based displays of academic ability, seeking instead some evidence of professional ‘belongingness’ (Yorke, 2016) or ‘work attachment’ (Knight & Yorke 2003:5). Despite shifts towards the integration of employability within undergraduate study, the defining, embedding and delivering of evidenced employability continues to be difficult. However, there are programmes that consistently deliver high levels of employability and opportunities for upwards social mobility, i.e. those that lead directly into professions such as teaching and law. Within such courses, it is argued, the key task for academics is to ensure that graduates face ‘the correct level of challenge’ (Eraut, 2007: 418) to prepare them for their future career. This should be achieved by having them complete assessments that spark high levels of motivation and maintain (or engender) both resilience (Pryce-Jones, 2014) and academic buoyancy (Martin, 2008). The literature shows that there is little research on employability development across different professional programmes, with the aim of informing the delivery of employability within traditional graduate programmes. Working within a University in the North West of England, the authors are investigating key employability skills and attributes across the legal and education professions as identified by significant stakeholders (employers): we ask how these are addressed through appropriate challenges as incorporated into assignments, tasks and experiences within the associated degree programmes. The findings highlight key areas of both commonality and difference. The project has the potential to impact upon the academic sector in identifying how and when skills and attributes can be realistically integrated into (and developed within) degree programmes. It will also provide evidence to the private sector of what exactly might be achieved, and what employers of recent graduates might need to address at the start of their employment. See further Goal 1 (ending poverty), 5 (achieving gender equality), and 16 (promoting peaceful, inclusive societies and accountable institutions) (date accessed 07.02.18)
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationACRE Conference Proceedings: Social Justice in Troubling Times: What does it mean and what's to be done? Critical issues in socially just research and practice
Subtitle of host publication10th Annual Conference for Research in Education
EditorsMary McAteer, Vicky Duckworth
Place of PublicationOrmskirk
PublisherEdge Hill University
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2019


  • Employability
  • Social justice
  • Social mobility
  • Professional programmes
  • Law
  • Education


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