Graduate career tracking research

Apart from some individual domestic and international surveys we know of few graduate career tracking research projects covering the entire higher education sphere. In particular the research project entitled Fiatal Diplomások Munkaerő-piaci Életpálya Vizsgálata (FIDÉV) [Labour Market Career Survey of Young Graduates] was the only data collection repeated over a number of consecutive years among graduates of university and college training courses; however, this programme was stopped a few years ago due to financing problems (1). These surveys provide important methodological experience in central GCT as questionnaire-based research, for which regular repeats are planned (2).

The general objective of the research is to analyse the employment prospects, career strategies and labour market careers of graduates from different educational fields, as well as to explore the correlations and asymmetries between qualification and employment status and work. The survey can be qualified as the only comprehensive standard questionnaire-based domestic research project on the basis of personal inquiry in this field of the past decade. The presentation of major graduate labour market tendencies will be possible primarily at the level of educational fields and educational branches, considering national and regional connections, however, the data collection provides only very limited opportunities for drawing conclusions at the institutional level. The approaches often severely simplifying the relation between higher education and labour market and, according to the general opinions of the experts leading research, graduation and entering the labour market are not applicable. Considering the results of higher education research conducted in recent years, three important hypotheses were formulated by researchers the consequences of which were validated in the development of the questionnaire:

(1.) The finalisation of the research concept was preceded by eight focus group surveys involving fresh graduates from different educational fields. The previously structured discussions conducted at locations in the capital and the county seats also strengthened the hypothesis that entry to the labour market takes place-although in different forms depending on study programmes and along different professional socialisation characteristics-long before graduation in the cases of a significant proportion of students (3). This phenomenon is not independent of the tendency observed over a long period in Hungary, in which the time spent by young people in education is increasing, either by extending the completion of the undergraduate programme or by participating in new further or retraining courses (4). Accounting for the fact of working during the schooling period or student years, interrupting education for shorter or longer spells and-even temporary-early entry to the labour market require a differentiated approach to labour market careers and surpassing the career-tracking theories that restrict the examination of labour market success to the period following graduation. This view is obviously strengthened by the important element of higher education expansion that the proportion of people that already have a degree has significantly increased at universities, which process is only further strengthening by the introduction of the two-level higher education system (see the increasing number of people entering master's programmes).

(2.) The other important hypothesis is based on the consideration that the analysis of the "marketability" of a degree requires a much more complex description of the problem than could be represented by data regarding exclusively employment statistics, or income indices that often refer to only a certain segment of the labour market, or even to employer demands formulated with rather limited validity. Simplifying surveys based only on processing employment rates after graduation do not take the changed structure of the economy and the increasingly differentiated system of employer demands towards qualifications into consideration (5). All this requires drawing far-reaching conclusions, the application of which must be considered in research on the employment of graduates. To call attention to just two of these now:
(a.) the realisation also reflecting the increasingly accepted shift of emphasis in higher education that focuses on the examination of competencies playing an increasingly important role in the labour market success achieved;
(b.) the problem of the labour market "flexibility" of the degree or qualification, i.e. the qualification related to the given study programme, and how much acquiring the professional knowledge and related skills and competencies suits the individual to success on a constantly and increasingly dynamically changing labour market that demands a great degree of adaptability.

(3.) The experts participating in the research are convinced that the success of graduates cannot be examined exclusively on the basis of economic indices. A career tracking practice based on such one-factor explanations not only questions the traditional function of higher education institutions in the education of intellectuals, but also ignores the very different study-specific characteristics too. Moreover, the different and consciously undertaken educational programme profile offer of individual higher education institutions requires separate interpretation within a given educational field, also showing a natural relationship with the professional embeddedness, the labour market orientation or even the regional role of universities and colleges. In the end, all these may not depend on differences in the standards of students resulting from the significant increase of the number of students and determined by "input" characteristics (this latter point also poses considerable obstacles to the measurement of the educational "performance" of institutions in themselves). In graduate career tracking surveys intending to draw up tendencies at a national level and on the level of educational field, the measurement of the labour market success of graduates is based on the elaboration of the complex index system of the following factors:

The examination dimension of the research-themes of the questionnaire

a.) School history
b.) Language skills, use of language
c.) Labour market career
d.) Career strategies after studies
e.) Employment motivations and directions
f.) Further education motivations
g.) Professional attachment and commitment "leaving the profession"
h.) Competencies
i.) Knowledge that may be acquired during the studies, opportunities for the utilisation of types of knowledge after graduation
j.) Practical application opportunities of knowledge acquired during the studies
k.) Value of the degree on the domestic and international labour market
l.) Expectations related to employment
m.) Maintaining connection with the training institution (alumni)
n.) Role of relationships in employment-professional network
o.) Characteristic of workplace position (types of workplaces, industry, form of employment, etc.)
p.) Life career and professional position
r.) Income situation and expectations related to income
s.) Satisfaction indices (professional, income, career-workplace prestige)

Method of research

Population surveyed: graduates in 2007 from higher education institutions recognised by the state.
Sampling: according to educational field/major, year, and gender, rated quote sampling in individual educational field/major for faculties; educational field/major sub-samples. Ten educational fields: agricultural science, humanities, economics, information technology, law and administration, technical, medical sciences and health care, pedagogy, social sciences, sciences. Sample size: 5500 persons.
Method of data collection: standard questionnaire data collection based on personal meeting, on the basis of address list. Questionnaire time: approx. 45-50 minutes. The questionnaire mainly consists of closed questions, amongst which there are 92 main questions and another 124 sub-questions. Data collection is expected to be carried out in February and March 2009. Data collection was carried out in April and May 2010.

So the sphere of fresh graduates to be surveyed means those graduating from the traditional university and college programmes, excepting some experimental programmes started earlier, for example in the technical field. The first significant number of graduates completing their studies in the new type of two level study programmes created during the Bologna transition only left higher education institutions in 2009, which does not yet allow for the examination of professionally assessable labour market careers. Therefore, one serious challenge for the next national graduate career tracking programme is the examination of the experiences of the graduates from the Bologna system in terms of how good their degrees prove to be, reflecting the new problem related to the two level educational system.

More about the method of research

-István Fábri-

1. Péter Galasi: Fiatal diplomások a munkaerőpiacon a tömegesedés időszakában. 2002, FIDÉV. Educatio, 2002. Summer, p.227-236.

2. Dániel Horváth: Hazai gyakorlatok a diplomás pályakövetésben. In: Diplomás pályakövetés 1. Hazai és nemzetközi tendenciák. Educatio Public Service Company / National Higher Education Information Centre, Budapest, 2008. (Ed.: István Fábri-Tamás Horváth - László Kiss - Andrea Nyerges) p.9-13.

3. Orsolya Polyacskó: Felsőoktatásból a munkaerőpiacra. In: Diplomás pályakövetés 2. Elhelyezkedés, alumni, jó gyakorlatok. Educatio Public Service Company - National Higher Education Information Centre, Budapest, 2009. (ed.: István Fábri - Tamás Horváth - Andrea Nyerges) p.35.

4. Kálmán Gábor: A magyar fiatalok és az iskolai ifjúsági korszak. Túl renden és osztályon? In: Andrea Szabó - Béla Bauer - László Laki: Ifjúság 2000 - Tanulmányok I. National Institute for Youth Research, Budapest, 2002. p.38-39.

5. György Fábri: Felsőfokú reálképzés tényei és tétjei. In: Felsőoktatási Műhely 2008/4, p. 15. See also the relevant official statistical data collections, e.g. Tibor Bors Borbély - Edit Fülöp (eds.): Munkaerő-piaci kutatások. Állami Foglalkoztatási Szolgálat (National Employment Service) 2008. Budapest. p. 66-71.