More women and minorities leave jobs for postgraduate degrees

Data analysis suggests discrimination plays a role in higher number of female and BME ‘returnees’

August 28, 2014

Source: Alamy

I’ll be back: female graduates are 20 per cent more likely to return to university

Discrimination in the workplace may play a part in women and ethnic minorities’ greater likelihood of returning to university to seek a postgraduate qualification, a new study suggests.

About one in 10 graduates will exit the labour market to pursue further study within three years of leaving university, but some groups are far more likely to take this route, according to researchers at the University of the West of England.

In analysing the pathways of more than 22,000 graduates who completed a first degree in 2007, they found that women were about 20 per cent more likely than men to be “returners”, all other factors being equal.

Black or minority ethnic graduates were 31 per cent more likely to return to university than white graduates, the analysis of the annual Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey found.

Women who studied science, technology, engineering or maths subjects were 48 per cent more likely than men to return, while black and minority ethnic STEM graduates were also 50 per cent more likely to return than white peers.

The analysis excluded those who undertook a postgraduate qualification immediately, as it is assumed that their studies were a deliberate choice rather than a fallback option following unemployment or dissatisfaction in their job.

Neil Harrison, senior lecturer in education at UWE, who carried out the analysis with co-author Stephen D’Aguiar, said that it was not clear why women or ethnic minorities were more inclined to return to university.

“There is a sense that these groups want more education generally than men or the white majority,” said Dr Harrison, citing the higher undergraduate enrolment rates for women and BME groups.

“They may simply value education more, but they may also fear discrimination and think they need extra qualifications to compete in the workplace. There is enough research to suggest there is discrimination in the workplace – for example, those from Muslim backgrounds find it harder to get a job interview, studies show,” he continued.

Dr Harrison is due to present the study, titled “Returning from earning: UK graduates returning to postgraduate study, with particular respect to STEM subjects, gender and ethnicity”, at the British Education Research Association’s annual conference, which takes place in London from 23-25 September.

He says the high rate of returnees who hold a first or upper second class degree suggests that there are not enough graduate jobs for the growing number of university leavers, with many high achievers seeking additional qualifications to stand out.

Those with a first who are employed in unskilled or semi-skilled work were roughly 50 per cent more likely to return to university than those with a 2.2 doing the same level of work, and twice as likely as those with a third, the study showed.

“If you have a first and you cannot find high-skilled work, the response is to go back to university and get a master’s, whereas those with a 2.2 might think it’s better to stay in a post and work your way up,” said Dr Harrison.

The study also shows that students whose courses included work placements – known as sandwich courses – were half as likely to leave the workplace to pursue postgraduate study.

“Sandwich courses really make you stick in the labour market, which is something we’ve known for years, but this research confirms it,” Dr Harrison said.

jack.grove@tesglobal.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Retired academics calculating moves while playing bowls

Lincoln Allison, Eric Thomas and Richard Larschan reflect on the ‘next phase’ of the scholarly life