Postgraduate Teaching Students – A Growing Challenge for UK Higher Education Careers Advisers and Employability Services

Tom Lowe is Senior Lecturer in Higher Education at the University of Portsmouth, where his research focuses on student engagement in educational development, embedding employability in the curriculum and supporting student engagement. Tom is also a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Chair of the RAISE Network, an international network of over 1,000 members researching student engagement. Prior to Portsmouth, Tom was Head of Student Engagement and Employability at the University of Winchester, where he led the University’s student development, internationalization and extracurricular opportunities, staff and strategies to promote student success. Tom has recently published a book entitled “Advancing Student Engagement in Higher Education: Reflection, Critique and Challenge” with Routledge Education and has worked as a consultant for over 30 universities internationally.


Higher Education in the UK, particularly in England, has seen steady growth in the proportion of 18-year-olds progressing to university-level studies, where in 2019, 50% of 18-year-olds in England were matriculated, partially fulfilling Tony Blair’s 1997 ambition. As the main indicator of the massification of higher education (being the number of students), the number of young people going to university is becoming the majority, and the number of graduates in the labor market is increasing. This high number of graduates from programs such as Psychology, Business Management and Criminology has encouraged employers to demand greater detail from their graduates, and graduates themselves are looking for opportunities to gain experience and qualifications to ‘stand out from the crowd’. It is not surprising that with the massification of Higher Education in the USA in the 1970s-90s, graduates are increasingly turning to postgraduate studies (ie Masters) to achieve this in the UK.

Universities have also increasingly promoted postgraduate study as a means of supporting measures of graduate employability, with UK postgraduate study seen as a ‘positive’ post-graduate outcome in both the previous Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Survey and the Graduate Outcomes Survey. Many universities further support this with postgraduate tuition discounts for accommodation at their undergraduate university. In the worst economic period of the COVID-19 for job vacancies (summer 2020), students also saw postgraduate studies as a safe option to increase numbers and the culture of postgraduate studies. Masters recruit both current undergraduate student populations from the same university, and beyond where students may return to their home country (prior to undergraduate studies) and possibly “market” to more prestigious or top universities). further improving their career prospects. These factors mentioned above have led to a significant increase in the number of Master’s students, together with an increasing number of international students in postgraduate teaching and other levels of study.

Considerations for careers advisors and graduate student support for employability services

So what do our employability services need to consider for the growing population of postgraduate teaching students? Well, much like undergraduate studies in the UK, the societal promise of postgraduate studies is to increase postgraduate opportunities, whether or not the program of study will actually deliver. In the UK, postgraduate students are included in the Graduate Outcomes Survey assessment, and in England, the Office for Students’ regulatory B3 measures that assess University ‘success’. Therefore, even if postgraduate studies are initially prioritized as a means of improving the employability measures of the often majority undergraduates, this can delay poor employability potential measures if postgraduate studies are not designed for career and employability opportunities. university is a holistic approach through schemes like B3. Therefore, it is essential that this expansion is not without improvements. Requiring students to take on more student loan debt, which in the UK is effectively a second student loan on top of their undergraduate loan (after earning two after-tax deductions over the threshold). Therefore, Careers Advisers and Employability Services are needed to support graduate students and improve opportunities for graduate students just as much as for undergraduate students. Pathways for undergraduates and graduate students are different. It is increasingly important for universities to intentionally support this growing student body to improve student and graduate success.

Considerations to support the employability of postgraduate taught students:

Embedding employability in the curriculum – The recommendation for all provisions is that discussions about career options after studies, real experiences with employers and, at a minimum, a training assessment of job applications are required in all disciplines. It is worth noting that the solution to many of the graduate employability issues facing UK Higher Education is that the difficult task of overtly embedding employability activities in taught sessions, compulsory modules and summative assessments will ensure strong student engagement with employability activities. Second, participating in discussions with alumni panels about graduate careers, what to do with your new skills and experiences after graduation, and including employers during class will also help your future thinking and awareness of graduate opportunities.

Discussing Day 1 Careers – The appeal of postgraduate taught studies in the UK is usually one-year master’s programs (internationally often if not two years). This creates a very short window of time to engage students who have only been on campus for 12 months. From the outset of these short programs it is crucial to engage in employability discussions before deviating from evaluation and research. One-year masters students will have a higher level of assessment, so as a key career development topic, which is talked about from the open day and from the very beginning, it will create anticipation for the rest of the course and students will engage early before taking it. such as theses of 15,000 words.

Guidance with the Vocational Counselor and Employability Service – While many graduate students may have been recruited directly from the same institution, many others will be completely new to the institution. University efforts often prioritize undergraduate students (often in greater numbers), however, it is worth doing the same introductory practice with undergraduates to describe the work of our services to be prepared to assist students later in their careers. .

Focusing on the summer and fall of the school year – Many postgraduate taught students will be studying from mid-September to the end of September the following year, so their job application deadlines will be different to undergraduates, where application deadlines will likely start in August (11 months) and run until the following fall. Services often focus on undergraduate student start-up activities during September (focusing on activities such as part-time jobs), where in fact graduate students may welcome campaigns and activities prioritized by services at the start of the calendar year.

Involvement of students in the development of the supply – By taking the time to listen to students’ views, discuss their motivations for graduate studies and understand their work readiness, services will be able to better support and understand students’ needs. This can involve co-designing solutions by working with students as partners and researching student demographics and different student enrollment services to inform practice and initiatives.

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