Graduates and non-graduates: RF & HEPI

Two reports have come out in the last few days which complement each other well.

The first is from the Resolution Foundation, and focuses on the much-neglected group of people who have some qualifications but are not graduates.  This is the RF exactly fulfilling its remit of shedding light on what is happening to the middle segments of our society – squeezed or not.   Given the number of people who hold vocational qualifications, and the number of times we hear about the UK’s lack of intermediate skills, it’s absurd that we pay so little attention to them.

The report produces quite a neat typology of non-graduates:  from ‘ladder climbers’ , who have reasonable career prospects, through ‘no way up’ to ‘needing a boost’.  The most PP-relevant group are the  “Skilled-but-stuck – Overqualified mums in part-time work”.  They are:

o 16% of non-graduates

o Mostly mothers working in low-paying occupations like sales & customer service

o Their route has not made the most of their education: over-qualified for their sector, more likely

to work part-time

o Their median hourly wage is £10.50; £8.25 for part-timers.

This is a big group of women whose competences are often heavily under-utilised.  The part-time effect is very strong – see PP posts passim.  One very interesting consequence is that the graduate premium – the amount graduates are paid more than non-graduates – is higher  for women than men: not because women graduates are paid better than men (indeed not) but because women non-graduates are paid so much less than their male equivalents.

The report makes excellent use of cohort data.  This reveals how the pattern of younger generations earning more than their predecessors has broken down.  Those born in 1983 were earning less at age 30ish than those in the previous generation.  And the typical graduate from the 1980s cohort – now in their mid-thirties – earns 15 per cent less than the typical graduate from the 1970s cohort did at the same age.

Unsurprisingly, graduates displacing non-graduates is a particularly strong reason for the difficulties the latter encounter.  Here a sectoral breakdown is important. Non-graduate displacement  happens particularly in public administration and health – exactly the sectors where women work most.

The RF report dovetails well with the recent analysis from the Higher Education Policy Institute of male underachievement in higher education.  This chronicles exactly the phenomenon which first prompted me to work on the PP:  the consistent, and now long-standing, pattern of male underperformance in education.

” UCAS’s latest End of Cycle report shows the entry rate for men increased by much less than for women in 2015, widening the gap between the sexes to a record 9.2 percentage points at age 18, meaning young women are now 35 per cent more likely to go to university than men. If this differential growth carries on unchecked, then girls born this year will be 75 per cent more likely to go to university than their male peers.”

On current trends, the gap between rich and poor will  be eclipsed by the gap between males and females within a decade.  Moreover males are more likely to drop out;  and get lower grades if they finish.

HEPI is admirably clear that this is not a matter of moral panic over male failure

 “Policymaking is not a zero-sum game in which you have to choose between caring about female disadvantage or the socio-economic gap or male underachievement. All three matter.”

But, as we know, the payoff to this higher achievement is not there.  Men still go into better paying work.  The report suggests a number of reasons:

work. Compared to female undergraduates, male undergraduates typically:

•• start their job search earlier;

•• are more confident about their prospects;

•• are less daunted by approaching employers;

•• are less concerned about many of the steps in making a job application;

•• are less likely to seek job security;

•• are less likely to desire work for ‘a cause they feel good about’;

•• believe job stereotypes less; and

•• are not as keen on careers with less structured entry procedures (such as cultural, charitable and media jobs as opposed to financial, engineering and information technology roles).

In short, putting these two studies together helps us to look at both graduates and non-graduates; to get a sense of just how deep the impetus is behind women’s outdoing men educationally;  and to get a firmer grip on the need to how what happens in one part of society (gender patterns of entry into HE) interacts with other parts (career blockage for female non-graduates).  These relationships are not easy to grasp in a single frame, but we need to try to keep them in some kind of focus.


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