Links between higher education and working life

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Links between higher

education and working life

Growth Analysis has been commissioned by the Ministry of Education to conduct a survey of how other countries link higher

– a study of other countries’ initiatives

(2) 2016/005

The Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis Studentplan 3, SE 831 40 Östersund, SWEDEN Phone: +46 (0)10 447 44 00

Fax: +46 (0)10 447 44 01 E-mail:

For further information, please contact: Carl Wadell Phone: +46 (0)10 447 44 73




Growth Analysis has been commissioned by the Ministry of Education to conduct a survey of how other countries link higher education to working life. The study relates to Denmark, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands and Singapore.

The country chapters were written by Carl Jeding (Denmark), Sophia Tannergård (UK), Anna Ledin (Canada), Carl Wadell (the Netherlands) and Andreas Muranyi-Scheutz (Singapore). Carl Wadell has also written the sections on the Swedish system and acted as project manager.

Stockholm, April 2016

Enrico Deiaco

Director, Innovation and Global Meeting Places Growth Analysis


Table of Contents

Summary ... 6

1 Introduction ... 9

2 Overview of current research ... 10

3 Prerequisites and challenges related to links between higher education and working life ... 14

3.1 Higher education leads to jobs, but there are occupations where there will be skills shortages in the future ... 14

3.2 Low personal economic return on higher education ... 15

3.3 The problem of matching ... 16

3.4 Lack of formalised strategies and working methods at several institutions of higher education ... 16

3.5 Changed student population ... 17

4 Denmark: Professionalisation of higher education and its links to working life ... 18

4.1 The education system in Denmark ... 18

4.2 The labour market for graduates ... 19

4.3 Government measures supporting links with working life ... 21

4.4 Measures at the University of Copenhagen ... 22

5 England: Focus on employability and apprenticeships ... 24

5.1 The UK’s higher education system ... 24

5.2 Links to working life and the labour market ... 25

5.3 Government initiatives for interaction with working life ... 26

5.4 The universities’ role ... 31

5.5 The role of business ... 33

6 Canada: Long tradition of links with working life ... 35

6.1 Overview of Canada’s system for higher- and work-related education... 35

6.2 Ontario, a province with long experience of links with working life ... 38

7 The Netherlands: National strategy and regional interaction with trade and industry ... 44

7.1 The Netherlands’ higher education system ... 45

7.2 Government initiatives: Top sectors are implementing the Human Capital Roadmap ... 48

7.3 Prominent higher education institution: Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) ... 50

8 Singapore: Links with working life are a central part of higher education ... 52

8.1 The university system in Singapore ... 53

8.2 Government initiatives to improve links between higher education and working life? ... 56

8.3 National University of Singapore ... 57

8.4 The role of business ... 60

8.5 Lifelong learning ... 60

9 Discussion and conclusions ... 64

10 Appendix 1: The higher education system in Sweden ... 70



The Ministry of Education has requested a report on the prerequisites for and initiatives regarding the linking of higher education to working life in Denmark, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands and Singapore.

Challenges on the borderland between higher education and the labour market In general, higher education in Sweden creates good prerequisites for students to get a job even if there are certain occupational categories where the future needs of the labour market are predicted to be greater than supply. There are also some areas of education, for example the humanities, political science and art, where it takes longer for graduates to find a job and where work tasks often differ from those they were trained to do.

In addition, there are challenges relating to low economic return on higher education, poor matching, and adaptation to changing needs on the labour market (for instance, because of digitalisation). Moreover, there are challenges related to the fact that the number of

students is increasing, there are more young students, and there are also more students who were not born in Sweden, and who thus have less experience of the Swedish labour market.

Research demonstrates positive effects

A survey of the research done in this field shows that the linking of higher education to working life has a number of positive effects, for instance, increased motivation to study, more likelihood of the study programme being completed in time, higher degree of establishment on the labour market, increased likelihood of getting skilled employment, and higher salary. There is some evidence that the effects of relating studies to working life are greatest in subject areas where there has been no tradition of cooperation with working life. Some of the most common outcome measures show that early career guidance and substantial projects/internships have positive effects while “superficial” interaction between students and working life tends to be of less importance. The linking of higher education to working life may therefore help to meet several of the challenges mentioned above.

The government can create prerequisites and incentives

In several of the countries studied, the distribution of the number of students at universities and institutes of higher education and vocational colleges is a factor that affects links between higher education and working life. In several of the countries, the distribution of students among the different types of educational institutions is considerably more even than it is in Sweden. It is believed this reduces the problem of matching since the vocatio- nal colleges are more focused on meeting the recruitment needs of the labour market.

Another aspect that affects incentives for links to working life is how the government subsidises higher education. In both the UK and Canada, where study fees have been increased in recent years, interest in employability has increased among students and parents which has in turn put pressure on the educational institutions to develop links between study programmes and working life. In Denmark, new rules have been introduced so that student aid is granted on the basis of a standardised study time which means the students now focus more on working life early on in their studies.


Another aspect that influences the educational institutions’ interest in integrating study programmes with working life is the extent to which quality assessment and remuneration from the government are linked to the students´ establishment on the labour market. For example, in the UK, employability and cooperation with employers are two parameters that are taken into account in evaluations. In Singapore, the universities are evaluated with regard to how fast new graduates enter the labour market. Denmark is probably going to introduce a similar system within a few years which has already resulted in the universities taking more initiatives to link study programmes to working life.

In a number of countries, the government is also creating economic incentives for trade and industry to become more involved in the linking of higher education to working life.

One example is the province of Ontario in Canada where employers are given up to SEK 20,000 in tax relief if they offer a 12-16 week work placement. Another example is the Centres for Innovative Craftsmanship in the Netherlands where the government finances 50 percent of public-private partnerships between vocational colleges and regional trade and industry so as to improve matching. Economic incentives in particular can create an interest among small and medium-sized companies.

Increased professionalisation and a growing toolbox for the educational institutions.

Several of the universities studied are professionalising links to working life. One way of strengthening links to working life at educational institutions is to involve representatives from working life in the groups that design and plan the study programmes. One example is the National University of Singapore where trade and industry have representatives on the university board and in the groups that develop the curricula. In Denmark and the Netherlands, universities often have external advisory boards with representatives from trade and industry, in the same way as certain Swedish educational institutions. Their role is to provide information about changes on the labour market and what skills and qualities the students need to acquire.

This review of the countries reveals a number of innovative methods for integrating working life into study programmes. One relatively well-known example is the “co-op study programmes” that are run in close collaboration with trade and industry, for example, at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Several of the educational institutions that were investigated also try to strengthen their links to working life by involving their alumni, for instance, through guest lectures and mentorship programmes. The report also reveals a number of interesting apprenticeship programmes.

In Singapore, Canada and the UK, initiatives are being taken at different levels to

strengthen the students’ personal and interpersonal development. Activities of this kind are obligatory at certain universities. Efforts are also being made to make the students’ “soft knowledge” more explicit, which has proven to be of significance, not least for students who are studying general programmes since that can give them a better picture of what they are really able to do. In addition, in several places, trade and industry want to promote the students’ creative and entrepreneurial thinking and their cooperative and communica- tive abilities.

Initiatives to improve lifelong learning

The survey also shows that the link between higher education and working life increasing- ly includes lifelong learning. In Singapore, for example, a Skills Future programme has


been introduced which among other things includes a national competence account. This perspective also implies that the linking of higher education to working life has to commence before young people start higher education. For example, in the Netherlands, the government has set the target that 4 out of 10 pupils at compulsory school are to have a degree in technology by 2020.


1 Introduction

Universities’ and colleges’ educational activities play a central role in the economy as graduates make a major contribution to the country’s welfare and competitiveness. From an economic perspective, the benefits of higher education, in the form of increased productivity in the labour market for example, need to be weighed up against society’s costs. Notwithstanding other advantages and disadvantages of higher education which are not financial.

From an economic perspective, one of the objectives for higher education should thus be to cost-effectively make students employable through providing them with relevant know- ledge and skills. In terms of research, the Higher Education Act stipulates that higher education institutions should interact with the surrounding society and ensure that research findings are put to use. However, there is no law which explicitly states that higher

education institutions must ensure that their education is to the benefit of society. Instead, the Act focuses on the fact that the education should develop the students’ preparedness to work and think independently and also prepare them to meet changes in working life.

There is a conception in Sweden that higher education should be wide-ranging and sustainable in the long-term, and the government has limited regulation and control of the work that the higher education institutions do in relation to working life. Sweden is thus (consciously) relatively poorly adapted to short-term cyclical fluctuations and to meeting the changing demand for labour. This means that a large proportion of the responsibility for strengthening the links between higher education and working life lies with the higher education institutions.

The term “links to working life” includes a number of different activities with the overall aim of making students employable and ready for working life. Some example of activities are guest lecturers, work placements, project work, careers guidance, careers centres, labour market days, contact with alumni, workplace excursions, mentor programmes, extra work, student consultants and interaction within the framework of strategic partnerships.

Through studying how Denmark, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands and Singapore link higher education to working life, this report aims to provide a basis to further strengthen the Swedish system. The report starts with an introduction to current research related to this issue, along with a description of how higher education’s links to working life function in Sweden today. Appendix 1 also provides a brief description of the Swedish higher education system. The report chiefly focuses on initiatives at undergraduate and graduate level.


2 Overview of current research

As a background to the following country examples, an overview is provided here of current research in relation to links between higher education and working life. It is important to emphasise that this text does not have the aim of providing a complete review of the research literature, but rather to provide examples of the effects generated by interaction with working life, as well as how it is arranged. A large proportion of the research surrounding labour market links is performed in other countries, which means that the results must be interpreted with a degree of caution. There are also associated research domains, for example, configuring higher education, which are not addressed in this review. The overall conclusion however is that higher education’s links with working life have a number of positive effects for students, employers and society.

One example of an empirical study is Næss et al (2012), who studied 2,700 Norwegian undergraduate and graduate students, and examined the extent of contacts and collabora- tions between the students and working life (both public and private sector), as well as this interaction’s significance for the students. The study shows that contacts with working life have positive effects on motivation, completion of studies and employment. The effects turned out to stronger for graduate students than for undergraduate students, and that the effect on employment was greatest within the disciplines where there was no tradition of interaction with working life. Thompson (2016) shows that short placement periods within social science and the humanities can also have a positive impact on the students’ career choices and give them valuable experiences.

One common form of interaction with working life is placements, which are becoming increasingly common, even among educational programmes which have not traditionally had it as a requirement. The research shows that students with a placement as part of their programme generally find it easier to get a job, but also easier to get skilled work (e.g.

Hurst and Good, 2010). Thune and Støren (2015) surveyed 2,232 Norwegian postgraduate students and demonstrated that project-based links to working life increased the likelihood of students completing their studies on time and that students who took part in placements or project work with a link to working life established themselves in the labour market to a greater extent. These results were also consistent when checked against different subject areas and students’ abilities. However, this study showed that brief, temporary spells of working life, such as excursions, have a minor impact on learning and the prospect of getting a job after graduating.

A system has been in place in Canada since the 1970s for so-called co-op placements (these are presented in more detail in the Canada chapter). One relevant evaluation shows that, on average, employees with bachelor’s degrees that include a co-op placement earn more than equivalent employees without a co-op placement (National Graduates Survey, 2014). It has also been demonstrated that students who have had a co-op placement have a higher level of employment and also to a greater extent pay back their study debts (Leger Marketing employer survey for Universities Canada, 2014). 80 per cent of employers asked said that co-op placements are a good way of uncovering new talents and future labour.

There is also some support in the research that recurrent placement periods and project work facilitate knowledge transfer from the students to the companies, which can lead to innovation (Bramwell and Wolfe, 2008). However, evaluations of co-op placements in


Canada indicate that small- and medium-sized companies are under-represented among the companies which offer placements, and this is partly due to the costs for companies to participate in the placement programmes (Leger Marketing employer survey for Universi- ties Canada, 2014). Two thirds of the employer organisations asked felt that economic incentives, tax concessions for example, would contribute positively to enabling them to employ more co-op placements.

The research confirms that links to working life within higher education are most common within professions with compulsory placements (e.g. nurses, doctors or teachers), as well as within economics and engineering programmes where students often write academic papers on site at employers (Thune and Støren, 2015). Placements and collaborations with working life are also relatively common within the humanities and social sciences in connection with writing papers. In this context, there are those who feel that the degree to which there are links with working life is closely connected to the extent that a subject involves issues, theories and methods that are relevant to a distinct business sector, and that collaboration can take place within the framework of shared requirements.

The research provides two pictures of what produces successful links to working life within higher education. On the one hand, it indicates the significance of strategic priorities that entail the higher education institutions allocating resources, establishing coordinating functions, developing contact databases, manuals, contracts and insurances etc. There is simultaneously research which indicates that collaborations between the academic world and working life are often of a cumulative nature and are often dependent on trust-based contacts and networks which emerge over a long period (e.g. Thune, 2011).

There is also research that focuses on how working life is developing more generally and what demands will be placed on students and higher education in the future. One example is Humburg and van der Velden (2013), who propose that higher education must be related to five megatrends. These trends are the knowledge society, high performing workplaces, digitalisation, globalisation and an increasingly changeable world. They suggest that these megatrends require the students to develop the following fundamental skills:

Professional expertise: Specific expert knowledge and the ability to apply this knowledge, as well as general academic skills

Mobilisation of human capital: Personal skills, self-awareness and strategic organisational thinking

Innovation and knowledge management: Creative and innovative thinking, as well as strategic management of information and ICT-tools

Entrepreneurship: The ability to identify commercial risks and opportunities, cost consciousness and converting new ideas into successful products

Flexibility: Managing a changing world through learning and continuously developing new skills

This field of research also discusses whether all these skills need to be addressed within the framework of higher education and there seems to be wide agreement that this is not the case. What is most important for higher education is to focus on professional expertise, which is the factor that chiefly drives success in the labour market (e.g. Allen och van der Velden, 2011). Professional expertise is defined here not as vocational knowledge, but rather a specific area within which a depth of knowledge is developed. The reasoning is that general academic skills are closely linked to the development of expert knowledge,


and the rhetorical question is whether it is even possible to develop academic skills without a specific context in which the skills are applied.

According to Humburg and van der Velden (2013), mobilisation of human capital is the second most important capacity the students should possess. The research indicates that development of this ability can be part of higher education, as long as these activities do not go beyond development of professional expertise. In many cases, it is possible to combine development of professional expertise and mobilisation of human capital. One such example is problem-based learning. However, if education in mobilisation of human capital takes place at the expense of professional expertise, the students should instead be encouraged to acquire these skills outside the programme, for example through involve- ment in students unions or societies and clubs.



Allen, J. och R. Van der Velden (2011), The Flexible Professional in the Knowledge Society: New Challenges for Higher Education, Higher Education Dynamics, Vol. 35, Springer, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York

Bramwell, A. and Wolfe, D.A. (2008), Universities and regional economic development:

The entrepreneurial University of Waterloo, Research Policy, 37(8), 1175-1187 Humburg, M. and R. van der Velden (2013), What is expected of higher education graduates in the 21st century?, in J. Buchanan et al. (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Skills and Training, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Hurst, J.L. and Good, L.K. (2010), A 20-year evolution of internships: Implications for retail interns, employers and educators, The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 20(1), 175-186

Leger Marketing employer survey for Universities Canada, 2014 National Graduates Survey, Statistics Canada, 2014

Næss, T., Thune, T., Støren, L.A. and Vabø, A. (2012), Samarbeid med arbeidslivet i studietiden: Omfang, typer og nytte av samarbeid (Cooperation with working life during study time: scope, types and benefits of cooperation), Report No. 48/2012, NIFU, Oslo Thompson, D.W. (2016), How valuable is ‘short project’ placement experience to higher education students?, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 1-12

Thune, T. (2011), Success Factors in Higher Education–Industry Collaboration: A case study of collaboration in the engineering field, Tertiary Education and Management, 17(1), 31-50

Thune, T. and Støren, L.A. (2015), Study and labour market effects of graduate students’

interaction with work organisations during education: A cohort study, Education + Training, 57(7), 702-722


3 Prerequisites and challenges related to links between higher education and working life

This section describes how higher education in Sweden has performed in recent years from the perspective of its links to working life, and discusses some related challenges.

3.1 Higher education leads to jobs, but there are occupations where there will be skills shortages in the future

Sweden has a labour force which to an ever greater degree has gone through higher education. In 2014, 89 per cent of Swedes with a post-secondary school education in the age group 25–34 had a job, which was 6 percentage points higher than the OECD average of 83 per cent and one of the highest proportions within the OECD.1 About 78 per cent of those who graduated from higher education in 2014 established themselves in the labour market within 0.5-1.5 years after obtaining their degree. More than 90 per cent of them had an occupation requiring a university education and in the majority of cases it was also an occupation that was closely linked to the degree specialisation (UKÄ, 2015)

These figures can be compared with the objectives that the European Commission has set for the education systems in the EU countries. One of these objectives is that at least 82 per cent of all 20–34 year olds who completed higher education should have a job no later than 3 years after graduation. In Sweden this pertains to 85 per cent of 20–34 year olds in the most recent survey in 2013, which was about 10 percentage points higher than the EU average (UKÄ, 2015).

Unemployment among young people (aged 25–34) with post-secondary education was also lower in Sweden (4.9 per cent) compared with the OECD average (7.6 per cent). Sweden is also one of the OECD countries where there is least difference between the genders among highly educated young people. Compared with the countries in this study, Sweden has also performed well in terms of unemployment for this group (UKÄ, 2015). In all the countries studied in this report, unemployment increased for young people with post-secondary education (Singapore is not included in the statistics).

At the same time, the recruitment rate differs between different courses. Within the care sector or programmes with an emphasis on technology, eight out of ten establish them- selves in the labour market within one year. Within the agriculture and forestry sectors, teaching and law, and social science, more than three quarters of the graduates had established themselves in the labour market after one year. Within the humanities and theology, just over half established themselves, and only around one third within the artistic field . 2 However, the proportion who establish themselves in the labour market increases over time after graduation and the increase is greatest for those who have an artistic or a general degree.3 At the same time, there are surveys which show that alumni from the humanities, political science and linguistics have a job with less of a correspond- ence to their education than others.4

1Sweden in an international perspective – A comparison based on Education at a Glance, Report 2015:22, UKÄ

2 Establishment in the labour market in 2011 – Graduation in the 2009/10 academic year, UKÄ, Report 2013:11

3 Establishment in the labour market for university graduates, Report 2015:26, UKÄ



There are also projections of recruitment requirements for different occupational groups.

Two occupational groups where it is currently thought that it will be difficult to meet the labour market’s needs are teachers5 and certain care professions, specialist nurses for example (UKÄ, 2016). The labour market’s need for graduate and postgraduate engineers is currently regarded as being met, however at the same time the forecast is that the recruitment requirement will increase in coming years.6

The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education conducted a survey in 20127 which concluded that the higher education institutions have developed the programmes’ links to working life in recent years. At the same time, it came to the conclusion that there were major differences between different educational areas. Interaction with working life was most evident within programmes targeted at a vocational degree, even though it also occurs to a major extent among programmes that lead to a general degree. It also turned out to be more common among studies organised in programmes, and less common for those that consist of free-standing courses.

Swedish post-secondary education is thus relatively effective in resulting in a job, even though there are certain programmes with a lower degree of establishment and certain occupational categories where the labour market’s future requirements exceed supply.

3.2 Low personal economic return on higher education

There are several reasons that students apply for higher education. Obtaining an interesting and stimulating job is a carrot for many, but it can also be about personal development or achieving a certain status in society. One clear incentive for applying to higher education is also the prospect of a more highly paid job. It is generally the case that the more educated you are in Sweden the higher the salary you receive. According to Statistics Sweden, a postgraduate earns an average of SEK 50,400, while persons with a short compulsory school education earn an average of SEK 24,500.8

At the same time, Sweden is one of the countries with the least difference in salary between those with a post-secondary education and those with at least an upper secondary education 9, and where education provides a low salary premium.10 According to UKÄ (the Swedish Higher Education Authority), Swedish men with a post-secondary education earn an average of 29 per cent more than upper secondary educated men and the corresponding figure for women is 25 per cent. Sweden is thus 32 percentage points below the OECD average for both the genders, even though women are slightly below men. In a Nordic perspective, it is only women in Denmark that are at the same low levels as Sweden.

5 Increasing numbers applying for teacher training – but far from the requirement forecast, UKÄ analysis no.


6 2016-3.pdf

7 Contactivities – Universities’ activities linking studies to working life, Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, Report 2012:23 R


9 arbetsmarknadsutsikter-oecd.pdf

10 Education premium and skills provision – effects for the problem of matching in the labour market?, Entreprenörskapsforum, 2015


3.3 The problem of matching

Despite there being a relatively good level of establishment after higher education in Sweden, there are matching problems. However, according to the OECD, Sweden is one of the countries in Europe that has least matching problems as less than 45 per cent of the labour force feel they are incorrectly matched.11 At the same time, the OECD reports that a relatively large number of companies in Sweden feel that they have difficulties recruiting.

Some 30 per cent of all companies (with more than 10 employees) experience this problem, which can be compared to countries such as the Netherlands and the UK where the same figure is about 10 per cent.

In this context, matching refers to how well supply and demand are met in the labour market and the problem is largely considered to be that the education system is not supplying students with the relevant skills. This can entail both over- and under-educated, i.e. that the students have too much or too little education in relation to the job tasks. The discussion also concerns whether there is a misallocation between educational specialisa- tions, i.e. that students are selecting programmes within areas where there is a surplus of labour, but are not opting for sectors where there is a shortage of skilled personnel. Finally, there is also a debate regarding employability, i.e. that the content of the educational programmes does not sufficiently prepare the students for the labour market.

The matching problem has long been debated, and a wealth of studies have been conducted by both governmental actors and representatives from trade and industry. In this section we confine ourselves to observing that there is a matching problem and that links to working life are often highlighted as something that could alleviate this problem. One important insight, however, is that the matching problem is not solely the government’s, the higher education institutions’ and the educational coordinators’ responsibility. Attention should also be directed at the demand side, i.e. how employers involve themselves in the link between higher education and working life and recruit students.12

3.4 Lack of formalised strategies and working methods at several institutions of higher education

In 2012, the National Agency for Higher Education conducted an evaluation of links between higher education and working life and pointed out certain shortcomings in the higher education institutions’ work.13 Some areas of improvement that the survey

addresses are that it was unclear what the tangible content in the educational programmes’

links to working life are, and that there are deficiencies in following-up its effects. It considers that the activities are generally not sufficiently formalised and that there are no measurable indicators and goals for interaction. Further, it considers that the higher education institutions can be better at following up alumni’s experiences and points of view. At the same time, there are Swedish examples of successful links with working life.

One such example is the so-called co-op programme implemented at University West.

11 Survey of Adult Skills, OECD 2012

12 Matching problems in the labour market for the highly educated – an overview of the Swedish debate, Daniel Berlin/Unit for analysis and evaluation, Report 2014:0, University of Gothenburg

13 Contactivities – Universities’ activities linking studies to working life, Swedish National Agency for Higher


3.5 Changed student population

According to UKÄ, the Swedish student population has become younger over the last ten years. The proportion of students aged 25 or younger has increased, at the same time as the proportion of older students has decreased. Between the 2004 and 2014 autumn semesters, the proportion of students who were below 25 years old increased by seven percentage points. During the same period, the proportion of students below 21 years old increased by 5 percentage points.

This has also meant that the average age among graduates has fallen somewhat during the last three academic years. Compared with the 2011/12 academic year, the proportion of graduates in the 22–24 age group has increased by two percentage points. Instead, the oldest graduates, in the 35 plus age group, has decreased by the same amount. The median age for graduates was 26.6 in the 2013/14 academic year, which was a slight decrease compared with the previous year, when the median age was 27.0.

In recent decades the number of higher education institutions and student places has increased substantially in Sweden. The expansion has been driven by the labour market’s need for labour along with an increased interest in higher education among young people.

This has also contributed to broadening the recruitment base, with higher education opening up for groups which had previously been under-represented. This expansion has however resulted in a student population with inferior cognitive prerequisites for academic studies.14 If it is assumed that younger students have less working experience when they start higher education, there is reason to believe that this development further strengthens the need for the education programmes to have links with working life.

In recent years migration to Sweden has also increased substantially.15 Unemployment is highest for those born abroad in their initial years in Sweden and it is above all those who do not have an upper secondary school education who find it difficult to establish them- selves in the labour market. It is likely that the number of immigrants within higher

education will increase in coming years. In turn this places further requirements on links to working life as in the majority of cases this group has no experience of working in


14 Swedish education policy’s labour market effects: what does the research say? IFAU (2010)? IFAU (2010)



4 Denmark: Professionalisation of higher education and its links to working life

4.1 The education system in Denmark

The Danish higher education system is differentiated between universities and university colleges (“proffesionshøjskoler”). The universities offer longer academic programmes (BA/BSc, MA/MSc and PhD) which are research-based, while the university colleges offer short and medium-length programmes (”vocational BAs”) without the same requirement for research links (Figure 1). Examples of such programmes are for nurses or certificated engineers. In addition, there are purely vocational programmes at vocational schools.

Figure 1 The Danish education system

Source: Ministry for Children, Education and Gender Equality, the-Danish-Education-System, visited 2016-04-07

Denmark has a total of eight universities (Table 1) which have rather different profiles, the oldest being the University of Copenhagen (founded 1479) and the youngest the IT University (founded 1999).


Table 1 Denmark’s universities

University Website

University of Copenhagen

Aarhus University

University of Southern Denmark

Roskilde University

Aalborg University

Technical University of Denmark

Copenhagen Business School The IT University of Copenhagen

4.2 The labour market for graduates

Higher education in Denmark has expanded substantially (as in Sweden) in recent decades.

In 1990 about 10 per cent of Danish young people had an academic education, in 2008 the figure was 19 per cent and it has continued to increase.16 It is anticipated that the Danish target of 25 per cent of each age group completing an academic education will be achieved within the next few years.17

Admissions to undergraduate programmes have basically been stable for the last three years. The distribution of subjects between the programmes has however changed somewhat, with the number of students on programmes within the humanities decreasing while technical and scientific programmes are increasing (Figure 2). However, the largest programmes are those within social sciences subjects, where the proportion of students in 2015 was equivalent to 36.5 per cent of the total number of students on undergraduate programmes in Denmark.18

16 Danske Universiteter (2010), Den danske universitetssektor – kort fortalt,

17 Danske Universiteter (2013), Akademikernes arbejdsmarked,

18 Danske Universiteter (2015), Tal om de danske universiteter, x


Figure 2 Subject distribution for undergraduate programmes at Danish universities

Source: Danske Universiteter (2015), Tal om de danske universiteter, 5.ashx

Unemployment among graduates has risen markedly since the financial crisis of 2008–09, with the number of unemployed graduates now at about the same level as it was after the IT crash in the early 2000s (see Figure 3). The expansion of higher education and the concomitant greater number of graduates in the labour force means that unemployment is proportionally lower than then.

Figure 3 Graduate unemployment in Denmark 2000-2013

Source: Danske Universiteter (2013), Akademikernes arbejdsmarked,

However, in general, graduates have coped better with the economic downturn than other groups in Denmark, with unemployment among graduates much lower than for the labour force as a whole. There is also a growing demand for graduates in the labour force, and


projections from Danish employer organisations indicate that there will be a shortfall of people with longer programmes of study.

However, recent graduates are finding it difficult to enter the labour market. In 2012, gross unemployment was 28.7 per cent for students who graduated within less than one year.19 4.3 Government measures supporting links with working life Since 2003, the Danish university sector has undergone rapid and extensive changes. The aim has been to strengthen the universities’ quality, both within education and research, and also to reinforce the link between the universities and trade and industry. The Universities Act, which was adopted in 2003, implemented major changes to the

universities’ governance, including the abolition of collegial management structures and their replacement with designated managers at all levels (vice-chancellors, deans, heads of department). The Act also introduced university boards with a majority of external

members, and the chair appointed by the Minister for Research.20

Since 1999, development contracts have been put in place between individual universities and the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science. The development contracts are planned to function as a control instrument both in the relationship between the university management and the Ministry and between the management and the university in general.

The contract is not legally binding, but clearly has a controlling effect on the universities.

A ”second generation” development contract was introduced in 2004, which should be viewed even more as a control instrument to strengthen the universities’ quality in education and research and also to reinforce the ties between the academic world and the rest of society.

University programmes are funded by the government on the basis of how many students complete their studies. In itself, this constitutes an incentive for the universities to help students to ”choose correctly” at an early stage of their studies. The government has also introduced premiums in the form of additional financing for the universities for those students who complete their studies in the intended time. As of yet there are no parameters in the allocation of higher education funding based on whether the students obtain employ- ment on completion of their studies, however, university representatives are expecting this to be introduced within a few years, and it is already influencing the universities to focus more on the students’ employability.

Danish student grants are allocated on the basis of how long the standard study period is for the student’s course. This also creates incentives for the students to ”choose correctly”

from the outset, even though opportunities do exist to receive study grants for a somewhat longer period if they do not succeed in maintaining the standard pace of study.21

Danish career advisors state that the tightening up of the regulations surrounding study grants is reflected in the fact that the students have become more focused on working life at an early stage of their studies. The government is also trying to use information to get the students to select programmes with good labour market prerequisites.

19 Danske Universiteter (2012), Cand. Erhvervs. Parat.,, s. 6

20 An account of the Danish reforms of the university sector can be found in Growth Analysis (2015), Management and Governance at the University of Copenhagen and Aalto University – two case studies,





The 2007 Accreditation Act introduced a compulsory system for external quality control of higher education in Denmark. All higher education programmes must be assessed and accredited, based on criteria set by the Minister of Higher Education and Research. The fact that a programme of study is accredited means that it is compliant with the minimum requirement for quality and relevance in accordance with five criteria:

The demand for the programme in the labour market

Whether the programme is research-based and linked with a high quality research environment

Academic profile and knowledge targets for the programme

The programme’s structure and organisation

Continuous internal quality follow-up of the programme of study 4.4 Measures at the University of Copenhagen

The greater number of external university boards that have been in existence since 2003 have the function of making universities more outwardly facing towards the surrounding society in their strategy work. The universities also use external ”advisory boards” when planning and designing new programmes. These panels are constituted by representatives from employers and other stakeholders from trade and industry, public institutions and interest organisations.

As a part of its quality assurance, the University of Copenhagen has a requirement that all faculties implement a ”graduate survey”, i.e. a survey of the students’ educational and labour market situation, at least every four years. The aim is in part to provide a basis for further development of the educational programmes, in part to disseminate information externally about the knowledge and skills that the university’s students have. The data from the surveys also constitutes the basis for the accreditation process for the program- mes.

The University’s Faculty of Humanities conducted such a survey in 2013, revealing among other things a certain imbalance between the knowledge the students obtained during their education and the skills required in their jobs. On the one hand, the respondents stated that they acquired a lot of theoretical knowledge that was not asked for by their employers. On the other hand, the course had not provided them with IT skills and general ”business understanding” to the degree that the employers demanded.22 Perhaps the most important result in the survey was however the significance of students focussing on their future working life after graduation at an early stage of their studies. The earlier the students started to apply for employment, match their skills profiles against the labour market etc., the quicker they got their first job. This was the factor which most clearly affected the students’ job prospects after graduation.23

In connection with the Universities Act of 2003, requirements were also introduced for the universities to offer and professionalise careers advice to the students. For many Danish universities, this represented the starting point in the development of proper functions for


23 Interview with Dorthe Rozalia Horup, careers advisor, Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen,


careers advice. The operation has clearly been professionalised during the thirteen years that have elapsed since it was introduced, however, careers advisors at Danish universities state that there is still a ”cultural resistance” within the universities to adapting the

programmes to the labour market – perhaps particularly within the humanities. There are still teachers who view higher education’s remit as preparing the students for a career in research, rather than for a working life outside the academic world.

The University of Copenhagen has a number of activities to link their students with companies. The University particularly targets companies with help to find students for, for example:

Placements and project work

Voluntary work and extra work (typically 10–15 hours/week), often within voluntary organisations/NGOs or in areas of the labour market that are related to the students’


Mentor programmes, where representatives from trade and industry act as mentors for the university’s students in order to bridge the gap between studies and professional life.

The University also operates the website KUJobbank24, where companies can search for both graduates from CU, as well as current students for voluntary and extra work.

Placement is perhaps the principal instrument for making the students employable.

Traditionally, placements have been most common within technical programmes, but it is becoming more common within other faculties as well. Since 2009 there have been opportunities at the University of Copenhagen to make placements a part of all masters programmes in the Faculty of Humanities. This is partly a way for students to obtain a realistic picture of what working life can be like after graduation and which skills are required. It is also a way to disseminate information to employers about which skills students with a humanities degree have.

Since 2008 the University of Copenhagen’s alumni association has been operating a mentor programme where the students are linked to a mentor who is a former CU student.

The experiences are beneficial, and the programme helps the students to adapt their skills to the labour market and give them an insight into the breadth of job opportunities after graduation. For the employers, who are from both the private and the public sectors, the programme provides opportunities to make contacts with students and facilitate future recruitment. Thus far about 800 students have participated in the programme.



5 England: Focus on employability and apprenticeships

Employability is a topical subject in England, and throughout the UK. One reason is that tuition fees have increased substantially in recent years,25 which has made students more concerned that their studies are relevant for the labour market. Besides increased tuition fees, the matching problem and students’ (deficient) skills are also being debated.

However, a number of initiatives are also in progress to increase the long-term relevance of higher education to the labour market. The UK’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has, among other things, launched a programme to facilitate apprenticeship programmes that are equivalent to undergraduate or graduate level, and it recently presented plans to introduce an employer’s contribution for large companies. The new contribution will be deductible against educational costs for employers with an apprentice- ship programme, which should encourage companies to take on apprentices.

Just as in Sweden, the universities largely decide themselves which educational program- mes to offer and when they should start and end their own programmes. One way of exerting influence on the universities to make them more adapted to working life is to bring the range of courses more in line with the labour market’s requirements through informing students of which programmes are in demand by employers. Furthermore, employability and collaboration with employers are points that are evaluated by both the quality assurance agency (QAA) and the funding body (HEFCE).

5.1 The UK’s higher education system

The UK’s education system is illustrated in the figure below. Pupils can choose from as early as 15 years old to start an apprenticeship programme instead of studying academic or vocational courses. At a higher level, there are both universities and FE colleges, i.e.

further education colleges, which are chiefly intended for access courses for university entrance or purely vocational courses. Figure 4 illustrates the different paths students can take through the education system.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have relatively independent education systems despite having close collaboration in many areas. The chapter below primarily refers to English authorities, even though UK legislation and initiatives are also relevant in some parts and are therefore also addressed. However, in many ways the challenges the countries are facing are the same across country borders.

25 Universities have gone from being able to charge a maximum of £3,375 (about SEK 39,000) per year in 2012 to a maximum of £9,000 (about SEK 104,000), with an average cost of £6,000 pounds (about SEK


Figure 4 An illustration of the UK education system

Source: kingdom/

5.2 Links to working life and the labour market

The UK is facing a skills challenge, with over one in five jobs unfilled because the employer cannot find persons with the right skills or qualifications. At the same time, around 50 per cent of British companies state that they have over-qualified employees (and 16 per cent of the labour force are in a job which requires lower qualifications than they have). By 2022 there are expected to be a further two million jobs in professions that require higher qualifications, which means that the proportion of persons with higher qualifications is expected to increase. At the same time, two different surveys are being conducted on why students with STEM degrees are not getting jobs, one of which is, somewhat surprisingly, focused on persons who studied computer science and did not obtain a job.26

The traditional three-year university course is sufficient for many jobs, but not all.

Employers often value wider subject knowledge, work experience and specific technical or practical experience that is best developed in the workplace. It is therefore important that the universities do not simply educate more people, but more people with the right skills, in the sense of skills that are in demand by employers.

British employers are generally satisfied with their employees’ skills, but state that there are certain shortcomings in the labour force’s IT-, English- and mathematical skills. The proportion of companies that perceive shortcomings in the latter two has increased from 40



per cent in 2009 to 50 per cent in 2015.27 The IT requirement seems to be being met to a somewhat greater extent over time, but is still at 46 per cent. This is in line with inter- national studies which show that the British labour force, and particularly young people, have weaker knowledge within these areas than other comparable economies.28 A survey from the CBI business organisation shows that companies would like to see higher

education institutions take greater responsibility for the relevance of undergraduate courses to business and to prepare students for working life.

5.3 Government initiatives for interaction with working life Universities in the UK and England are autonomous, they can make their own decisions regarding their organisation, including appointment of vice-chancellors, creation of legal entities and internal structure of faculties. Overall student numbers are agreed centrally and quality assurance is performed by the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency29) however, the universities can decide themselves how many students are admitted to their different programmes.30 This contributes to the fact that the UK’s policy relies to a high degree on dissemination of information to improve employability in students, as it is regarded as both cheaper and more effective.31 However, precisely employability has come to be increasing- ly important in the policy debate – particularly since the last election. The Conservative Party promised in its election manifesto that it would provide incentives for the universities to provide the best possible learning (which will probably be measured, at least in part, through the number of graduates who obtain employment).

During 2015, BIS published what is known as a green paper32, which explains the forthcoming policy changes within the area of higher education. It received several hundred comments, to which it will respond in the coming months. One initiative that is mentioned in the paper is Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). TEF is an adaptation of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), and is based on the fact that government research funds should be distributed on the basis of which university conducts the principal research (in terms of scientific, but also economic, impact). REF is now going to be

adapted to provide and distribute funds for teaching at university level. It is, however, more problematic to measure results when it comes to teaching than research. One example of this is recruitment rate, which is affected by factors such as the universities’

input (students) and reputation.

A method of evaluating teaching quality is under development and it seem like it will make the universities work more closely with employers in order to make the students more employable.33 However, it does not appear that universities with good scores will receive more funding for teaching, but rather that they will be able to increase their tuition fees to a

27 The labour force’s inadequate mathematical skills are estimated to cost the British economy around 20.2 billion pounds per annum.


29 QAA works with the UK as a whole.


31 One example of it is the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) annual statistics of university and college graduates, Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Institutions, which surveys what students within different disciplines are doing about six months after graduation and is a way of evaluating how well the course is adapted to the labour market.

32 student-choice



ceiling adapted to inflation, in distinction from the fixed ceiling that is currently in place.34 However, this has been met with criticism as what it means in practice is that tuition fees can be increased more than they already have been, and so that tuition fees can be kept under control, they are partly being moved from Parliament to BIS. This plan is at present only for the UK, but it may be extended to Wales and Northern Ireland.

Another issue which is addressed in the discussion is transparency, it should be easier for students to find out how great a chance they have for employment in connection with different programmes and universities – at present this is difficult to access and there is not one ”place” where students can compare different options. A third initiative which started last year is so-called Degree Apprenticeships, which are described in more detail below.35 In December last year, BIS published its Apprenticeship 2020 Vision with plans for control over financing of apprenticeship places to be placed in the companies’ hands through the Digital Apprenticeship Service. Employers will then be able to choose, and pay for, the apprenticeships and evaluation they want to have, at the same time as they receive help to select an apprenticeship programme, find candidates and select an ”education provider”

such as a university. The aim is to ensure that the work on apprenticeships is as far as possible performed by employers, and to make it easier for them to compare different educational institutions, standards and costs. The service will also help companies to manage the ”apprenticeship fee” that will be introduced. In addition, it was announced that the independent Institute for Apprenticeships will be opened in April 2017. The aim of the Institute is to support the development and delivery of high-quality apprenticeship

standards and assessment plans.36 The Institute will chiefly consist of employers, business executives and their representatives to ensure that the apprenticeship initiative is pursued at the highest level in companies.

In addition, the British government will be introducing a so-called apprenticeship levy for large and medium-sized companies, with revenues earmarked for apprenticeships as a part of the target that there will be three million apprenticeships per year by 2020. The levy amounts to 0.5 per cent of the company’s personnel expenses and has to be paid if annual personnel expenses exceed three million pounds. More information about the levy will be available in spring 2016. If employers take on an apprentice they recoup a proportion or all of the levy paid, even a surplus. Figure 5 Illustrates companies’, education providers’ and the government’s roles in the new system.


35 Telephone interview David Cairncross, CBI 2016-04-05



Figure 5 An illustration of how the apprenticeship levy is charged


It can be argued that this is a way of encouraging companies to employ apprentices, at the same time as tackling freeloaders which let other companies train up the labour force through apprenticeships and then benefit from their skills. However, the CBI business organisation notes that it is difficult to implement such a reform without unintended consequences. For example, the cost for the apprentice’s university studies is included in the cost of the apprenticeship, but a large part of the total cost is internal to the company and this cost is not recouped. A consequence of this is that companies profit from employ- ing expensive apprentices (from, for example, degree apprenticeships) if they want to recoup as much money as possible. However, if the government is to achieve its target of three million apprentices by 2020, many more apprentices will be needed at a lower level.37

Prior to 2010 there were no initiatives for apprenticeships worth mentioning in the UK, however following an addition to the funding, the total number of apprentices increased (at both higher and lower level) and between 2010 and 2014 there was a total of two million apprentices. The increase took place in customer service, sales, administration and welfare rather than in occupations where there is a shortage. However, it appears that the

apprentices are receiving inadequate training. One third of the 45 workplaces visited gave accreditation for tasks such as making coffee and cleaning floors, which does not provides the apprentices with adequate long-term skills development. High-quality apprenticeships are chiefly to be found within industries with a tradition of relying on apprentices to develop a future labour force, such as the engineering and vehicle industries. The majority of apprentices are between 16 and 24 years old, and the best apprenticeships paid the apprentices a higher salary than students from mid-ranking universities.38 However, there are still not enough advanced apprenticeships in sectors with skills shortages.39

37 Telephone interview David Cairncross, CBI 2016-04-05




Quality assurance and financing of higher education

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is the authority that distri- butes public funds to universities in England. One way it assesses the universities is in terms of their initiatives to increase students’ employability. It considers that if a university programme is relevant for employers it will be reflected in its graduate recruitment. This is included in the information that students can obtain about the different programmes, which should drive up demand for and supply of the subject. The information is collected in The Key Information Set (KIS). The same point of departure is used to assess the relevance of institutions and programmes in relation to the labour market.4041 HEFCE also finances the Catalyst Fund, a fund which lies behind many university’s initiatives to increase links with working life through collaborations with companies42. Every year it distributes around SEK 522 million (45 million pounds) for a range of projects. However, the fund does not support any broad, general, initiatives for increased collaboration, but rather individual university’s programmes and initiatives.43

Another important actor is the quality assurance agency, QAA, which is in a start-up phase with regard to relevance to the labour market and has started to work together with

employers to a greater extent. Since 2013, QAA has included employability as one of two overarching themes in its ”Higher Education Review”. The focus in the evaluations is on innovations to promote employability and entrepreneurial skills in students, as well as employers’ involvement in programmes and development of curricula. QAA has also developed the resource “Recognising achievement beyond the curriculum: A toolkit for enhancing strategy and practice” which should help higher education institutions to understand what they can do to recognise students’ achievements outside the academic curriculum. The aim is to help students to benefit from their higher education and take responsibility for their own personal and professional development. In addition, during 2015 QAA initiated a collaboration with the National Centre for Universities and Business, NCUB, to listen to companies’ opinions on programmes.

Centre for collaboration between business and universities

The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), was launched in April 2013 with support from the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). It is financed by a large number of other governmental bodies, along with actors from the business world and academia. NCUB’s principal remit is to analyse higher education’s relationship with business, but it is also involved in facilitating and improving different types of collabora- tions. The STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are in focus as they are regarded as of particular importance for the development of business.

One important strategy is to highlight good examples and to display statistics for employ- ability for different disciplines and universities. One way this is done is through the Student Employability Index, which surveys the relevance of different college and university courses in relation to the labour market. The results show that students’

activities during their period of study play a role for future employment, whether it

40 HEFCE (2011) Strategically important and vulnerable subjects. The HEFCE advisory group’s 2010-11 report p. 10/11.


42 One example of a programme it supports is Coventry University’s collaboration with the Uniport company.

Uniport has a factory in close proximity to the university and students in mechanical engineering spend much of their study time there, gaining substantial work experience.

43 Telephone interview David Cairncross, CBI 2016-04-05




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