Defining and developing an approach to employability in higher education: a study of sports degree provision

Cole, Doug (2020) Defining and developing an approach to employability in higher education: a study of sports degree provision. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Employability in higher education has never been as critical an issue as at the present time, with governments across the world looking to universities to respond to the social, economic and employment-related challenges that exist. Employability is commonly articulated as a set of skills-based challenges, and universities are investing significantly in approaches to support students through into initial graduate employment.

In the UK, success is measured through graduate employment measures. This thesis, drawing upon the work of Dacre Pool and Sewell (2007), Fugate et al. (2008), Kumar (2007), Tomlinson (2017a), and Knight and Yorke (2004) depart from the view that employability requires just a skills-based approach for employment, and instead articulate that what is required is a more holistic and integrated approach to employability and learning. Focusing upon employability in undergraduate sports programmes, this thesis argues that current thinking and practice demonstrate a limited understanding of employability, and that these views only limit future potential and results.

The aims of the study were first, to establish the current understanding of employability at a strategic and practice level within sports-related degree programmes in higher education, drawing from findings from available research literature on employability. The second aim was to produce a framework or model that would support a more effective way of addressing employability in the future.

The research was conducted using a mixed methodology, including two case studies and largely qualitative methods. The first stage consisted of a literature review, followed by a national survey of seventy-one institutions, which yielded usable responses from 69 academics representing 36 institutions. The themes identified from both these activities were then explored in the second research stage, with two selected institutional case studies. Participants in the case studies included eight university leaders, 25 academics and 22 students. Collectively, they participated in 22 individual interviews and eight focus groups.

The findings of this thesis are that employability is narrowly understood across each of the participant groups and is most often described as being a skills-based challenge, primarily for the purpose of students gaining initial employment. In addition, the thesis highlights how employability is often perceived as a disconnected area of work, discrete from the core business of learning, teaching and research. Moreover, the views of participants are typically not informed by the available employability-related research that has previously defined this complex and elusive concept. This existing published research has had no impact at either a strategic or practice level.

Given the apparent general lack of understanding and appreciation of exactly what contextual areas of learning are important to support employability, the research findings suggest that higher education will be limited in its ability to address this agenda more effectively in the future. Developed out of this research, the ‘Dimensions for Learning’ taxonomy presents a potential solution by seeking to disrupt the common and overly narrow understanding and discourse on employability.

It is argued that engagement with this taxonomy presents an opportunity to refocus thinking and actions to become learning-centred, research-aligned, integrated and more holistic. Critically, highlighting the need to focus learning beyond subject knowledge and skill development, the thesis highlights the importance of approaching employability from an interpersonal and intrapersonal perspective, in order to better support graduate success in both the workplace and life more broadly.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Research to practice, Learning and teaching, Strategic approaches, Dimensions for learning, Taxonomy for learning
Subjects: C600 Sports Science
L900 Others in Social studies
X900 Others in Education
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Social Sciences
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 17 Aug 2020 07:54
Last Modified: 24 Jun 2022 08:15

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