Higher education broadly assumes a conceptual link between graduate skills and qualities and employability. Much work has been done over the past decade in Australian universities to embed the teaching and assessing of graduate attributes. Sara Hammer and colleagues recently noted that the substantial body of research into graduate attributes is concerned more with implementation within a disciplinary context, with little research on the impact on employment and other important outcomes.

To test this assumed link between skills and employment, we accessed over 110,000 responses from the Graduate Outcome Survey (2015-2017) to investigate whether the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) subscales of Good Teaching (GTS), Graduate Skills (GSS), and Graduate Qualities (GQS) predicted graduates’ employment status, overall course satisfaction, and decisions to take further studies.

All three scales predicted overall satisfaction. The combined GSS and GQS scales predicted negligible increases in employment outcomes. We found no relation between graduates’ perception of teaching quality and employment outcomes. None of the scales predicted enrolment in further study.

Measuring students’ and graduates’ experiences of their studies, their graduate qualities, and their graduate outcomes is an important aspect of quality assurance in higher education. Our study found that the CEQ scales are valid and reliable. However, a concern articulated in our article is that institutional and political misuse and abuse of these measures spoils their trustworthiness in the eyes of the public.

As we state in the Discussion, “these measures of graduate skills and qualities are measuring something, but that something has little direct effect on graduates’ chances of being employed.”

If universities tout the measures as proxy indicators of employment and employability, which they do for marketing reasons, then the measures will eventually fall into disrepute, not because they are flawed in psychometric qualities, but because they have been misused and abused.

Our findings highlight the imperative for higher education leaders to critically examine discourse about the link between employability skills and employment outcomes. We need research that empirically measures important outcomes of a university education. Finally, we need to focus on institutional employability strategies and support services that have evidence of effectiveness, such as career development and work integrated learning.


Jason Brown is Academic Lead, Employability Curriculum, Office of the DVC (Students), La Trobe University. @onejasonbrown

Professor Peter McIlveen is Research Director, ACCELL Research Team, School of Education, University of Southern Queensland @petermcilveen


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