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Recommendations



Over the thirty months of the project, the partners organised series of events and produced valuable publications and learning materials to be used by the students representatives and other relevant stakeholders.

More specifically these events are:

  • SAGE Launch Conference, held on 29/05/2012 in Brussels
  • European Students Convention, organized by DSF(SAGE P6) in March 2012 in Copenhagen, Denmark
  • SAGE Consultation Seminar, held between 17th and 20th of October 2012 in Limassol, Cyprus
  • European Training on Graduates Employability held on 24th and 25th April 2013 in Budapest
  • SAGE National Debates in
A ) Denmarks
B ) Finland
C ) Hungary
D ) Spain,
Done in the period April-June 2013
  • SAGE Final Conference, held between 19th and 21st March 2014 in Brussels

The project products have also contributed to providing Graduates Employability Policy Recommendations from the students point of view.
  • Bologna with Students Eyes 2012
  • EU 2020 Student Review
  • Study on Graduates Employability in Europe

I. SAGE PROJECT RECOMMENDATIONS FROM EVENTS


1. SAGE Launch Conference- Roundtable on Employability, May 2012

Main conclusions and suggestions
  • The term “employability” is defined differently by different stakeholders and is often misused. It should not be seen only within a narrow definition of obtaining certain skills, but should be seen in a broader context. Employability is not the same as employment either: it is not only about being employed, but having a quality job that matches person’s knowledge, motivation and skills.
  • The question is therefore not only about the employment rate of graduates. The match, or mismatch, between studies and the working life should be in the centre of the debate. To shift this focus, much more qualitative data on graduates’ employability is needed.
  • A single stakeholder, or partner in the process, cannot be held solely responsible for graduates’ employability: all actors have a role to play in this. Public policy often touches on gray policy areas between employment and education and training and issues like social policy, labour legislation and taxation should be better linked into the debate.
  • Graduates have indeed better working life opportunities, as well as better further education opportunities, but in terms of linking with the purpose of higher education, much more emphasis should be laid on inclusiveness and integration into higher education as those most affected by unemployment are often with lower levels of education.
  • In terms of success in learning and attainment, and ultimately, in definition of learning outcomes, a key question will be to define what is collective in one’s learning – to which degree do we want to emphasise the contribution of higher education and graduates to society and to what degree we want to see that as part of skills attained. Employability contains notions of success in the civic life and contribution to society and not only in the labour market per se.
  • Although students perceive that academics are not concerned with employability issues, this might not be the reality, but rather miscommunication between different stakeholders. Working conditions of academics might be of common interest as that might help to also foster inclusiveness into higher education at large as well. More communication is needed between stakeholders to find common ground and definitions.
  • It is not wise to tie a certain curricula (skills and learning outcomes) closely to a certain employer or a specific employment path (narrow jobs). In the end, this makes the graduates less flexible in the labour market, while employers actually need flexible graduates and they can teach specifics to the employees themselves.
  • Top 10 jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004: It is questionable if employers actually always know the best answers to the question about which employees are needed in the future. We cannot say exactly which kind of jobs will be prevalent and up and coming 10 years down the road, but we can still say which skills would be determining the success. Preparing for the unknown needs more flexibility and more emphasis on generic skills like problem-solving and analytical skills. Interestingly, these skills also form the basis of skills needed for active participation in society.
  • Better look into which skills and competencies people actually have and how it matchaes their aspirations and the actual occupation is essential. Focus should be less on what degree they have obtained or the reputation of the HEI they graduated from. This, more integrated approach to graduates’ employability takes into account the changing nature of work that includes the increasing role of collaboration, online work, distance work and flexible hours.
  • Are graduates who have been active in youth organisations more employable due to specific skills they have attained outside of formal learning, but very much in connection? Further, the contribution of recognising the role of non-formal education in giving people skills and competence needs to be reflected upon. The real impact of involvement of youth in voluntary activities and the third sector must be properly assessed and linked to formal education systems.
  • We shouldn’t only concentrate on students getting jobs, but also students creating jobs. Governments’ investments in entrepreneurship and innovation are becoming more and more important. Innovation skills need to become something that we can describe in the curricula and measure their achievement.
  • In the end we cannot expect governments (on national and on the European level) to solve all the problems with graduate employability just by changing public policies in education. Other public policy areas (labour policy, social policy etc) play as important role as well as input and activities by different stakeholders.

2. European Students Convention Discussion Points

Getting young Europe out of the crisis - Eyes on higher education and employability
of graduates.
Over 120 student representatives from all across the European continent gathered for three days in Copenhagen to discuss the consequences of the rising youth unemployment, and the role of higher education to get Europe out of the crisis.

General Conclusions and Recommendations from the European Students Convention, March 2012

The discussions resulted in ten concrete recommendations for the policy makers of Europe.
  • Education as a public responsibility: Education is a public responsibility and a public good, and therefore requires public investment. Institutions of higher education and governments must be transparent regarding the use of public funds for education and mobility, and should engage in discussions about how to make the best use of public funds to realise the potential quality of education, access and success of students.
  • Funding of mobility: Student mobility should have to be understood as a part of higher education and not as a facultative opportunity given to limited categories of students.
  • Social enhancement: It is vital that every programme has a mobility window that is accessible for all.
  • Education as the best way of reducing unemployment: employers shall understand degrees as a tool for protection of graduates as future workers.
  • Employability and Higher Education: Student-centred learning coupled with clearly defined learning outcomes need to be fully used and implemented.
  • Internships and work experience: Internships should not replace real jobs and they have to be effective for the formation of the students. High quality internships based on work experience are a good way of developing skills; these should be integrated with studies and students should have adequate financial support just like they would when studying at an institution.
  • Responsibility of society: Society shall maintain open dialogue with higher education institutions. All private partners who are working with higher education have to do this in a responsible manner, which does not give priority to business interest when cooperating on developing curriculum.
  • Government responsibility: Governments shall provide support and grants for higher education programmes and institutions to develop the dimension of employability. They shall initiate and mediate the dialogue between academia, government entities, business and industry to create consistent cooperation. Governments shall be responsible for finance of higher education as a public good and a human right.
  • Institutional responsibility: Institutions of higher education and society shall cooperate to accomplish common goals. Access to and success in higher education shall be available to all who wish to study.
  • Students’ responsibility: The European Students’ Union, National Unions of Students, and institutional unions shall be responsible for developing and communicating coherent strategies regarding development of graduate employability, and shall use them in lobbying activities at the institutional and national levels. Students are competent and constructive partners in decisions regarding their future.

3. Discussion Points of SAGE Consultation Seminar, March 2012


  1. What are current discussions with regards to employability?
  2. What are challenges with regards to employment? (Skills that lack? Unpaid internships/stage after graduation? How long does it take it find employment in the respective field of studies?)
  3. How are the stakeholders responding? Which stakeholders? What are they saying? (Industry, representatives of vocational education, trade unions)
  4. What are main features of the national strategies; are there support measures for graduates? Compare different strategies/policies to see the commonalities and differences.
  5. What is distinctive about ET2020?
  6. What are EU solutions?
  7. Why is it important for stakeholders to conceptualise employability and the process?
  8. Smart employability and the case study of Cyprus.

General Conclusions and Recommendations from SAGE Consultation Seminar
The higher education as public good: Unions agreed that cuts in higher education bring brain drain and sacrifice a whole generation and they are ready to continue actively advocating for higher education as public good and public responsibility!
Need for a balance: Unions came to conclusion that there needs to be balance between higher education institutions! It needs to be clearly defined what is the role of VETs and what is the role of Universities! Also, balance between supply and demand (Universities and labour market) is needed.
Open access to higher education: Unions also acknowledged very big issue with introducing tuition fees and limiting access to higher education, stressing the importance of open access to higher education.
Need for better promotion and implentation of emolyability/employment strategies on the national level. There is a big lack of national strategies and responsibility. Governance is week, but not necessarily. There is ambiguity of ideas of institutions and governments.
The role of universities: Even though universities are being independent, they still should contribute to the policy making on the national level.
Need for higher social responsibility: The case of the new scheme of support for entrepreneurship and student initiatives in Cyprus: It can contribute to the student centred learning and smart employability as such, but that it also needs to be taken up with much higher social responsibility, well thought in advance.

Discussion Points of SAGE National Debate in Denmark, May 2013


What a business organization emphasizes when looking for a new employee?
What newly-graduates can do themselves in order to be better equipped for the job
Market? (From the point of view of the universities and companies.)
Danish Government’s policy on graduate work readiness.

General Conclusions and Recommendations from SAGE National Debate in Denmark
The Education System in Denmark must improve students’ ability to put theory into practice in order for Denmark to become the country with the best Universities and the brightest students. Furthermore, graduates must have a better business understanding and become accustomed to regular deadlines.
The solution could be that the universities introduce several case based studies in education.
The mentor-programs in some universities where students pair up with someone from the business world already have shown success and benefits for both parties and need to be multiplied.
The decisions on curriculum and the long term employability of the graduates have to be taken by staff and students rather than by external employers and/or politicians who might tend to focus on the short term.
The universities must be guaranteed autonomy, and the academic community must have full academic freedom.

Discussion Points of SAGE National Debate in Finland, March 2013


How can the skills demanded in the future be forecasted?
Employability from the employee’s point of view.
University degree has to provide good working life skills.

General Conclusions and Recommendations from SAGE National Debate in Finland
There needs to be cooperation between employers and employees and universities.
The careers in the future won’t be as long as today, so the emphasis should be on the generic skills.
More empreneurship skills and cooperation skills are needed.
Every employee needs the possibility to develop his/her skills. It is important to improve the skills on all levels of expertise
The employer should conduct regular audits of the skills of its employees, this might make future growth possible when the employees and employer realise the possibilities.

The graduates creativity and skills can be enhanced through:
  • cooperation with employers on every level
  • pedagogical methods aiming at deep learning
  • motivated students who appreciate studying
  • guidance and guiding oriented teaching
  • learning how to cooperate has to be integrated into the studies

Overall, employability is an important part of higher education and it should be integrated in the design of curricula and how the studies are conducted. Graduates need more cooperation and entrepreneurship skills. They also have to be able to develop their skills further in the working life as getting a degree gives only the basics for life long learning.

Discussion Points of SAGE National Debate in Hungary, April 2013


I. Connection between the labour market and the educational policy
II. Active labour market policies

General Conclusions and Recommendations from SAGE National Debate in Hungary
It is essential for higher education in order to plan the curricula to receive information about the long-term needs of the labour market. The information inflow of expectations and getting labour market demands and supply closer, can be enhanced with a more active corporate cooperation in education, research and their financing.
Already during elementary studies, the importance of career planning and job orientation is essential since this is the period when students need to choose an educational program and curricula that matches their qualities and interests, taking into consideration also the future chances of employment in that field. Connecting to this topic, the stakeholder experts found it especially important that young people, beside foreign languages and IT knowledge, also gain practical work and entrepreneurial experience during their higher educational studies, therefore it is high time to review the system of professional internships.

Discussion Points of SAGE National Debate in Spain, June 2013


Do visions, policies and trends fit?
What are meeting points between each other?
Employability: Should it influence financing of HEI? How to measure employability?

General Conclusions and Recommendations from SAGE National Debate in Spain
Employability has to be meassured before, during and after the degrees to have a trend and not just a fixed picture. It also starts when the desig of a degree and its curricula starts. It is also key to follow the grdautes several years after graduating.
Competitiveness among universities has to be promoted. Training and education
quality is fundamental but employability should also be a factor to measure when
talking about quality universities and degrees.
The concept of LLL has to be implemented and explained better to the members of the society to make them understand that recycling knowledge and addapting to knew concepts is vital to maintain education alive. Jobs also develop in time and workers have to addpat.
The university has to conect students with employers: The creation of proffesional orientation services, job forums etc. are good ideas that have to be promoted.
Trasnversial skills should be teached in universities but not as specific courses but included in technical courses. They have to be integrated in the curricula.
LLL is very important because helps you adapt to any changes in the labour market. Thiese skills and competences have to be recognised in a way. The European Suplement Diploma is the place to recognise this.

Discussion Points of SAGE Final Conference, March 2014


1. Students’views on employability
2. Students’ participation in European policy
3. European Parliament elections 2014. Because it matters: Vote for education!

General Conclusions and Recommendations from SAGE Final Conference
Distinction between employability and employment should be clearly done.
Certain evidence from past, whereas higher education closely tailored to labour market, show that it was not always a good solution, whereas HE should rather be
focusing on transferring know-how, so that graduates could be able to adapt to the new challenges and technological development.
There is a mismatch between employers’ and higher education time frames.
Employability throughout career is the needed approach, not just focusing on the first job.
SAGE Policy should link employability contexts with the current labour marked situation.
There are many factors - personality, background (education background). Some
employability skills are not best learned at institutions but at work based schools.
Among the external factors are the present job situation, dilemma between short term and long term education choices. The education must meet both. Shorter changes to meet respond immediately to current market.
The member states hold the major responsibility. The national systems are not always ready to offer solutions to employability. It is not always clear to employers what programmes are offering. There is lack of transparency, both for employers and students and between them.
The Diploma supplement as a tool may overcome these challenges and shall be used by all.
Youth Guarantee Scheme: The policy of offering job, training, re-training withing 4 months of becoming unemployed shall be implemented.
Additional training of social service staff for graduate aiding is necessary.
There shall be a pan European framework for internships.
It is important to ensure HEIs keep their vision of contributing to the public good.
It is also important that student and youth organisations have the rights to be included in designing Youth Guarantee Schemes.
Youth guarantee ombudsman should steer the youth guarantee as an independent office to monitor and follow it up.
Providing financial support, better student services, student centred learning, flexible pathways, guidance and counselling and outreach programmes can reduce the dropouts.
HEIs have to implement social dimension strategies in order to enhance
their performance when it comes to employability.
Youth unemployment and access to education are the major two issues within the elections time for the new European Parliament.

II. SAGE RECOMMENDATIONS FROM PROJECT PRODUCTS



Bologna with Students Eyes 2012 (April, 2012)

  • The Bologna Process should be rebuilt on an approach based on targets for minimum expected standards of imple¬mentation. One particular consequence of failure to meet minimum standards should be the revocation of the Bo¬logna ›label‹. This label should be reserved for policy areas where countries have properly implemented the correct policy measures. Ignoring minimum standards risks affecting the coherency of the European Higher Education Area. This should not become an incentive for reaching the minimum threshold, but enable the progress.
  • For the overarching policy targets on social dimension, lifelong learning, and employability, clear and concrete indicators should be developed and tied to the national targets. Data collection and analysis must be improved on the European level, including independent alternatives to the current stocktaking exercise, which is too dependent on the governments’ own perceptions.
  • The Bologna Process implementation on the national level should be reinforced. Governments need to establish special incentives and provide a significant level of financial and regulatory support for institutions that are trying to implement various elements of the Bologna Process. Devise and implement a system of scrutiny for the imple¬mentation of Bologna focusing on improvement rather than penalization.
  • The EU should refocus the higher education policy on supporting the targets in the Bologna Process rather than developing competing policy agendas. Cohesion funds, such as the European Social Fund, can be better used to support reforms pursuing the Bologna Process.
  • There needs to be consistent consultation and involvement of national stakeholders in Bologna implementation. Students as well as academic staff and other stakeholders are the ones bearing the brunt of any change and thus should be part of any discussion and decision. National BFUGs that include stakeholders should be established or revitalized and given an important mandate for Bologna coordination and promotion in every country.
  • While the structure of higher education systems is being reformed, little is being done to make it comprehensible to the wider public, especially students. It is crucial for ministers to commit to establishing credible and easy to use guidance systems for different actors in higher education and to communicate what the European Higher Educa¬tion Area is about.
  • While improving information about the outcome of the Bologna Process reforms, the political accountability in the Bologna Process and European higher education policies must be improved, gain more public support towards the process, and meet the values of democracy and openness emphasised in multiple communiqués. Transparency of decisions and the link between European policies and national implementation must be clear for a broader pub¬lic and the higher education community. Closed bodies such as the Council of the European Union and the BFUG should improve communications about the work in progress.

EU 2020 Student Review (March, 2014)

As this publication is not considered to be a research publication, authors find it difficult to give clear policy recommendations based on its contents. However, it gives insight into areas that should be looked into in more detail and highlights success stories that should be built upon:

  • Support for national access plans

National access plans are highlighted as one of the main success factors in achieving the attainment goals set out in the Europe 2020 strategy and subse¬quently the ET2020 strategic framework and the Modernisation Agenda. ESIB calls on the European Union to support countries financially wishing to de¬sign such access plans and within the Bologna process design a methodology supporting the creating and implementation of national access plans.

  • Analyse the ›mismatch‹

One of the areas highlighted by various national unions of students, as well as the European Commission, is the mismatch between the expectation of stu¬dents and the labour market. This is an issue that has been hotly debated, with many stakeholders, including ESIB, arguing that it is too difficult to predict what the labour market needs from higher education. To be able to address these is¬sues, it must be analysed more in-depth if the labour market can give a clear in¬put to the higher education institutions on how it sees the mismatch. Responsi¬bilities for actions with regards to the mismatch should also be clearly outlined in national policy.

  • Cohesive message

An issue of major concern involves the conflicting messages being sent from different policy levels and areas in the European Union’s structures. This is a special concern for those countries that have faced the worst effects of austerity measures that are perhaps in most need for investments in education, as a way out of the crisis. It is imperative that the input from the European Union is clear and cohesive to these countries in terms of education. This is to a certain extent also a concern with regards to the Europe 2020 strategy versus et2020 and the Modernisation Agenda. While they may have the same timeline, it can be dif¬ficult for countries to understand what the main priorities are as they are a bit different in each one.

  • Measured economic focus

One of the major concerns raised by the students contributing to this publica-tion and by the European Students Union, since the launch of the Lisbon strat¬egy, is the extensive focus placed on the economic role of higher education and the lack of support for the public good and responsibility for education. This can also been seen through the lack of support for the ET2020 with regards to promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship. This strategic objec¬tive requires additional attention to complement the focus on skills’ develop¬ment.

  • Support the public role of higher education

In the Bologna process, the support for education as a public responsibility has been confirmed several times, most recently in the Bucharest communiqué from 2012. This should also be reflected in future communications from the European Union. Currently, the focus with regards to the financing of higher education in Europe is on efficiency and cost-sharing. We fear that the focus in the coming years will be on the implementation of tuition fees instead of our common interest in supporting higher education.

  • Stakeholders’ involvement

There are several policy areas at the European level that can be called success¬ful, such as developments in quality assurance and teaching and learning. We believe that stakeholders’ involvement is a factor in that success. Stakeholders’ involvement is equally important at the European level as it is to the national and institutional level, perhaps even more. As the recommendations, strategies and policies from the European level are not prescriptive; they require a broad support to be successful. Involving stakeholders, including students, in an inte¬grated way from the beginning

Study on Graduates Employability in Europe (March, 2014)

  • The difference between employability (ability to learn; ability to gain employment) and employment (an actual acquisition of a job) should always be kept in mind, in discussions and decision making processes on European, national and institutional levels.
  • Employability should always be defined in a broad sense, taking into account factors from the outside as well as from the inside of higher education (e.g. outside factors: labour market, socio-economic background and demographics of a person, inside factors: Bologna tools that influence employability, such as qualifications frameworks, learning outcomes, ECTS, Diploma Supplement).

  • Higher education has multiple, concomitant purposes and all should be reflected in a higher education reform:
Preparing for employment;
Preparing for life as active citizens in democratic societies;
Personal development;
The development and maintenance of a broad, advanced knowledge base.
Higher education should not be designed to match the labour market needs, but should rather be tailored according to the needs of the society as a whole.

  • Recognise and always keep in mind complexity and diversity of educational programmes, disciplines and professions when discussing enhancement of employability of graduates. Research oriented universities, for example, will have a different approach to employability than Vocational Education and Training.
  • Improve compatibility and coherence of different segments of education (i.e. primary, general secondary, VET, higher education, adult education) while exploring possibilities for permeability between VET and higher education. ESU invites countries to seek connection and correlation between Vocational Education and Training (VET), Applied Sciences and Higher Education systems in order to make access from one system to another smoother.
  • The link between employability and social dimension should be strengthened by opening access to and improving success within higher education, for students and learners coming from underrepresented demographics. Bearing in mind that tertiary education graduates have more success in gaining employment than graduates from other educational contexts, opening access to higher education will improve socio-economic standard of people as well.
  • Students should be actively involved in further implementation, self-certification and referencing of National Qualifications Frameworks as well as in further developments of QF-EHEA and the EQF-LLL. It is important to recognise all specificities of two different frameworks and work on their compatibility rather than on a merger. The role of qualifications frameworks in recognition—for both educational and employment-related purposes—needs to be better identified, especially in those countries that have until now put various obstacles in the face of academic recognition.
  • Awarding of the ECTS should happen based on the estimation of workload and formulation of learning outcomes. Credit systems can be beneficial for achieving more transparency and compatibility between different educational structures. Taking the student workload and learning outcomes as the basis of credit allocation represents a change of paradigms and is essential for implementing the student-centred learning approach. Currently, credit allocation is often based upon the teaching input, which often has consequences for the duration of a study programme. The actual student workload necessary to successfully complete part of a study programme is often neglected.
  • Learning outcomes should be fully implemented and students involved in the design of programme and intended learning outcomes and in discussions and decision making on assessment methods and criteria. Learning outcomes should be clearly and transparently defined within the frameworks of broadly recognised learning and educational theory while taking into account the existence of many different types of learning pertaining to all aspects of human life and development.
  • Student-Centred Learning should be fully endorsed and implemented. In order to enhance employability, SCL approach that empowers active student participation in curriculum design and internal quality assurance of teaching, learning and assessment activities must be fully endorsed and implemented by higher education institutions.
  • Diploma Supplement should be issued to students automatically upon graduation or upon request before graduation; it should be written in one of the widely spoken languages (i.e. English, French, German) and free of charge. Students have the right to receive documentation explaining the qualifications gained, including achieved learning outcomes and the context, cycle/level and status of the studies that were pursued and successfully completed. This certification should be automatically issued upon graduation (the so-called Diploma Supplement developed by the European Commission, Council of Europe and UNESCO-CEPES and confirmed in the Lisbon Convention) or upon request before graduation, but always free of charge and following a standardised model.
  • Automatic recognition of academic, comparable degrees should be fully endorsed, however, not at the expense of autonomy of higher education institutions. It is essential for ESU that the recognition of comparable degrees is guaranteed and granted automatically, free of charge, in all EHEA countries based on the tools already developed within the Bologna Process. ESU, having regard of the Lisbon Recognition Convention, considers that there should be automatic recognition of comparable degrees between those EHEA countries that have already fully implemented the Bologna structural reforms (three-cycle system, ECTS, national qualification framework -aligned to the QF-EHEA-, quality assurance agency registered in EQAR, automatic issuing of the Diploma Supplement), as there would not be any substantial differences.
  • Recognition of Prior Learning and Student Portfolio System should be fully endorsed by the institutions. ESU stresses that recognition of prior learning should be available for the purpose of gaining entry to a certain education programme, as well as for gaining recognition of certain parts of an education programme due to already achieved learning outcomes (e.g. courses or modules; comparable to academic recognition of study abroad periods). Credit assignment should be correlated to the achievement of learning outcomes. Therefore credits must be granted for achievements in prior learning and especially for competencies resulting from professional experiences. Students should have the right to have their prior learning evaluated by higher education institutions and/or recognition authorities. A portfolio refers to a way of displaying the competences one has gained prior to seeking admittance to higher education, or alternatively, to the working life.
  • Higher education should not abandon development of generic skills (i.e. critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to learn independently and with understanding). It should continuously respond to the societal needs, citizenship and personal development, regardless of the pressure caused by swingeing budget cuts and requests for narrowing the scope and purposes of higher education to subject specific, “key” or “core” skills and competences for the labour market.
  • Develop mechanisms that ask for students’ expectations towards their studies in order to improve relevance of the disciplines and programmes of the studies for current and prospective students.
  • Cooperation of stakeholders and higher education institutions can be useful for the enhancement of employability, but must be approached with care. Stakeholders can contribute with important knowledge and participate in discussions about the design and delivery of higher education programmes, but the decision-making power must always rest with institutions.
  • Educational quality or success of higher education institutions should not be measured in terms of employment. There shouldn’t exist any attempt whatsoever to measure educational quality or success in terms of employment or income statistics – while important, these do not provide an accurate reflection of quality in higher education.