The role of graduate recruitment in the employability agenda: a qualitative case study of undergraduate business education at a London Russell Group university

Bennett, Michael (2023) The role of graduate recruitment in the employability agenda: a qualitative case study of undergraduate business education at a London Russell Group university. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


The main aim of the study was to investigate the extent to which business education enabled graduates at a London Russell Group university to successfully gain employment in competitive roles at large corporate employers. The fieldwork was conducted in 2021 using a case study methodology comprising of qualitative interviews with six module leaders, four university support staff and seven graduate recruiters, combined with secondary qualitative analysis of 26 National Student Survey responses, module specifications and other documents/ websites. At the time, graduate employment was increasingly being seen as the principal meaning of higher education, to generate economic growth and enable social mobility. Increasing tuition fees, combined with the removal of student recruitment controls, resulted in universities competing for students, with an emphasis on graduate career outcomes. The number of academic studies seeking to conceptualise employability and understand the needs of employers has increased considerably over the last 25 years, in line with the shift in government policy. However, empirical research has been too often positioned from the perspectives of students, academics or employers, rather than attempting to gain a holistic, integrated understanding of graduate recruitment as part of the wider employability agenda. This is the gap in the literature which this study seeks to address. The study draws on an educational and sociological theoretical lens, including Bourdieu’s conceptual tools of habitus and social & cultural capitals, Becker’s human capital theory, Foucault’s technologies of the self, and Young’s analysis of meritocracy. The empirical findings of the study reveal that the role of human capital may be a diminishing factor in graduate employment and, instead, it is the accumulation of social and cultural capital that are frequently the differentiating factors in the complex and hyper-competitive recruitment arena. The study contributes to the academic knowledge of sociology in higher education principally through the discovery that while existing research focuses on accessing university as a solution in itself for social mobility, discrimination is being shifted from university admissions to graduation, where social inequalities are being exacerbated in the recruitment arena. To overcome these barriers, less privileged students are required to play the game, reconstructing their identities to conform to the expectations of employers. For these students there is a possibility, albeit challenging, to gain a foothold in the elite capitalist class, via a conscious and intentional strategy of symbolic capital accumulation, developed by the individual and scaffolded by business school pedagogical interventions. The study’s contribution to policy and practice builds on this point, arguing that by maximising exposure to members of the dominant class in field-specific scenarios at university, less privileged students have the potential to beat the ruling elite at their own game. To accumulate social and cultural capital, Page 3 of 246 pedagogic strategies rooted in experiential learning and reflective practice are critical for graduates to successfully transition from students to quasi-professionals. The propelling power of privilege remains a major advantage, but this study presents a conceptual pathway for business schools to enable their students to level the playing field and achieve graduate employment.

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