The Knowledge Economy -- a Debate

The concept is firmly established in British Government circles, but there is some academic material too. See what you think of the pros and cons. Spot my own biases too?

Murphy, P  (2005)  'Knowledge Capitalism', in Thesis Eleven, May: 36 - 62

[Pretty dull and very long as well, and full of the most absurd generalizations.]

It all turns on changing networks, apparently. Formal  networks were characteristic of Fordism, for example, and were designed to solve the problem of co-ordination. New technology improved things, but the network of large corporations is substantially hierarchical, except in Japan, apparently, where there is still lots of face-to-face networking  [and look how well they've done!]. Standardization is a technique to simply improve the co-ordination of action  and also  'Human beings have a strong attraction to consistent forms of behaviour' (38). This also explains the spread of rationalization.

Then there was a  'visible philosophical shift away from the vertically integrated network organisation' (40), partly because such vertical integration was not the best way to develop intellectual value, including  'design intelligence'. However, such intelligence became economically far more important, leading to firms based on intellectual capital. Given creativity, rules of procedure replaced standardised products. Luckily, modern designers apparently build on some residual  'instinct of workmanship' or  'poeisis' (41).  [all these clever distinctions are then denied and everything apparently interpenetrates everything else -- we don't want anything too precise in this incantatory style do we?]

Apparently, co-ordination with intellectual capital industries depends on trust and frequent communication and interaction. This produces a  'lattice network'. Suppliers and consumers are brought into the network. The Japanese example is cited again -- apparently, social networks here are based around  'quasi-ritual groups devoted to the cultivation of exacting aesthetic and formalistic standards' [tea ceremonies, judo, or calligraphy]. In the West, we use different kinds of civic networks. 'Creative figures' have to play a major role though  [no doubt including creative managers]. The decline of Fordism apparently is down to the lack of encouragement of creativity. American universities also allowed far too much hierarchy via subject disciplines  (46). What is needed instead is  'correspondence relations'.

In practice, this can look like a series of impermanent teams, but the best forms are  'un- coerced collective action' (46). This works well when everyone is responsible for quality, ideas can be tried out on suppliers and consumers, and  'communities of practice' emerge  (47). Everything depends on trust. Murphy believes that it is in everyone's interest to cooperate though, especially in producing a nicer world:  'agents are surprisingly willing to corporate  "for nothing"' (47)  [Jesus!]. It is all for the common good. We must all cooperate as part of our civic duty.

Cooperation deepens trust, and luckily  'typically societies with a strong design sense also have a strong civic impulse' (48)  [nothing as vulgar as evidence here or any thing of course]. Any innovative company mixes civic and aesthetics motives  [usual problem -- this must happen, and if so what does the must mean?]. [Here is a typical use of phoney  'data'--  'It is estimated that today... the intangible assets of intellectual capital represent anywhere between three and 16 times the book value of tangible assets' (48). There is a reference, but I bet it is the same old management bullshit].

We should think of organizations as developing overlapping civic circles. This will generate intellectual property for the company [!]. Apparently though it is 'pathetic' if academics assert copyright: they should consider themselves lucky to be members of the "republic of letters"  (49). We must just trust people.  'Loyalty is a social virtue' (50).

We must develop these new organizations if we are to release creativity.  'Creativity is the creation of form... [creative products]... can be copied and can be imitated' (51). That is just like a shared sense of rhythm or taste. We then have some historical examples about European countries which developed intellectual capital -- strangely, they also had  'a much higher rates of growth of copyrights and patents industries' (51).

The knowledge economy does not just mean data collection, since this can be pressed into the service of hierarchy. Nor does it matter if you have offices with computers in them. Information should be dispersed to encourage lateral flows and collaboration with others, especially those not in face-to-face contact. Creative knowledge is good -- it crosses boundaries, bridges diversion concepts, abstracts and produces novelty  (52). It is difficult to estimate the indirect value of creativity. Design is key:  'It is very clear that interactions involving strangers are primarily conducted through abstract design elements rather than through the handshake or other direct social cues. Societies rich in interactions between strangers produce strong design cultures' [with a reference to one of his earlier babblings]. This is seen in the way that great art is appreciated by a wider audience.

[Then a lot of repetition of the same points, presumably for rhetorical purposes. Then triumphant examples such as...] workforce militancy and dissatisfaction was high at the Ford Motor Company plant at Halewood, until Jaguar took it over. Then  'Levels of militancy, frustration, and dissatisfaction declined even while working hours increased. The reason for this is that the workforce quickly developed pride in the objects they were producing' (54). Apparently, this same connections between creativity and trust are found in a particularly successful region of Italy  [references here include Fukuyama and Putnam]. The Italian example also shows  'the power of design and civic intelligence' (55). So did the Renaissance. Serenity characterizes Renaissance Venice.

Thus  'It is the quality of the objects  [produced] that creates the "glue" that bonds apprentice and master, worker and owner, purchaser and sub-contractor, manufacturer and marketer, developer and manufacturer. This is a general principle of knowledge economies'

Brown, P.  and Lauder, H.  (2006) ‘Globalization, knowledge and the myth of the magnet economy’, in Globalization, Societies and Education, 4 (1): 25-57.

There is a common view that we are entering a global knowledge economy, and that success will depend on a suitable education system,  both to provide the necessary skills and to encourage ‘social harmony' (Department for Education and Skills, 2003, p 2).  [functionalist theories of stratification again? -- see Davis and Moore] This is in line with the old predictions about the post industrial society, which will feature knowledge as the wealth creator, and a new role for knowledge workers.  A global economy will develop, and this will benefit everyone, replacing  territorial disputes with economic rivalry based on knowledge.  Education institutions play a major role, leading to pressure in the UK to encourage a shift towards skills needed to succeed in the global market for labour.  Fordist production is no longer the route to national wealth.

Growing wage inequality has been seen as evidence of this global market at work.  Income inequality in turn is seen as a problem which can be solved by changes in the education system.  There will be a ‘global market’  (27), where low skilled jobs are exported to low wage economies while highly skilled jobs generate income in the more developed countries.  Thus countries such as the UK, France and the USA can become ‘magnet economies, attracting a disproportionate share of these high skilled high wage jobs’ (28).  Such economies attract foreign workers to overcome any short term skill shortages.  Domestically, education systems become more focused on credentials, knowledge and skills: education systems raise the standards of everyone, and open higher education in particular to those capable of acquiring global skills.  There is no problem with investing in private education.  High wage jobs are seen as open to talent.

However, the reality is rather different.  First, multinational companies are developing new strategies to acquire skilled labour which affect the auction for jobs.  Secondly, there is no universal law connecting education, jobs and rewards, which means there is no guarantee that the educational strategy will deliver highly skilled jobs.  Thirdly, knowledge workers have not gained increased power, and have suffered instead from new trends in ‘technological innovation to be followed by standardisation’ (29).  Fourthly, placing the emphasis on individual competence ignores broader patterning, such as the changes in what counts as a graduate job, or ‘new forms of social closure’ (30).

A global market has been exploited by the developing countries.  China, for example, has rapidly expanded its higher education system, and in 2001 had ‘six times as many university students as the UK and almost as many as the USA’ (30).  India is following a similar path.  Allowing for problems with the statistics, ‘higher education numbers in China, India and Russia have almost doubled…  [and now offer]…  almost double the combined total for the USA and the UK’ (31).

Multinational companies have also changed their strategies, using the huge investment that they can command.  The electronics industry is one example.  Companies now operate across national boundaries, partly to offload corporate risk.  They have developed electronic networks.  Foreign students sent to places like the USA are being encouraged to return home.  India has developed its own electronics engineering companies, with expansion in education and training.  Indian professionals present a considerable cost advantage to companies employing them, for example ‘Indian programmers are around 14 times cheaper than those in the United States’ (33).  Indian entrepreneurs are also present in large numbers in Silicon Valley [implying that either they will physically return home or that they return investment and educational capital to India?].  A Dutch auction might be developing, with companies reducing costs and increasing concessions in exchange for investment in particular countries.

It is clear that the less developed countries are also competing for highly skilled work, and this can reduce the bargaining power of knowledge workers [those who do not want to migrate particularly?].  Companies can reduce costs by hiring workers from low waged economies.  There is less evidence that the developing economies are actually generating high skilled jobs.  ‘”Guest” workers typically do the same jobs for fewer rewards and inferior contracts of employment ‘(33).

So far, we have focused on the electronics industry, which may be atypical. However a large number of other knowledge intensive industries are similar in their low requirements for skilled workers [the examples given are Google and eBay].  Similarly, globalization can be exaggerated, and much research and development tends to remain in the home country of multinationals.  Thus domestic markets are still an important factor in the employability of managers and professionals.  Nevertheless, the general problems with generating highly skilled magnet economies remains.

Knowledge intensive industries tend to occupy enclaves amidst areas of low skill and inequality—Bangalore and Silicon Valley are examples.  Global networks seem more important than local ones, which can be simply switched off.  Overall, developing mass higher education to service the minority of workers who will enter employment in knowledge intensive industries, seems a limited strategy.  It also depends on a permanent shortage of supply of relevant skills: ‘Once there is an oversupply, the competition shifts to a global auction based on quality and price’ (35 original emphasis).  Thus such a policy risks ‘substantial wastage of talent... as graduates accept sub-graduate work’ (35).

The underlying assumption of the magnet economy is that human capital produces growth and higher wages.  This equation between high skill and high income justifies inequality: it makes the system look like a meritocracy and also promises widened opportunity if only education and training can be increased.  The increased dividend to graduates also justifies charging them fees in the UK.

However, the rate of return to graduates are controversial.  OECD data (36), shows a greater premium for graduation in the UK and USA, compared to Japan, while men achieve greater returns than women.  It is worth noting that this is based on average figures.  Any gap between graduates and non-graduates could be caused by declining incomes for non-graduates.  Past returns maybe no good as an accurate guide to the future—we need trend data rather than snapshots.

Alternative calculations are cited pp. 36 and 37.  These look at differences within the graduate population in the USA as well as differences with non graduates, and provide trend data.  The conclusion is that not all graduates have enjoyed a growth in real incomes since 1973— female graduates have been left out, except for those in the higher earner sectors.  There has been very little additional premium since the 1970s, although the gap with non graduates remains.  Even here there is some overlap, since non graduates in the highest earning categories do better than graduates with the median income.  There is therefore ‘the degree of substitution between graduate and non graduate jobs which manifests itself in many graduates being over qualified’ (38), and the UK is probably not very different.

A social mobility study is cited for the UK, Brynin (2002).  This shows that the first jobs taken by young people exhibit some downward mobility compared to their fathers’, and that subsequent rises in mobility are not as great [but see lots of other studies on social mobility here].  There is enough evidence to challenge the view that service class jobs would increase to compensate for the decline in manufacturing [that does seem to be agreed].  This study is supported by other studies of particular sectors (cited page 38) suggesting that between a third and 40% of graduates are in non graduate jobs in 2002.  Female graduates earn less in each of the categories than males, except where they share in the substantial growth of income for the top earners: the highest earners earn twice the median level for graduates of the same sex.  Thus there are forces producing inequality even inside the graduate market.  The same picture appears when considering ethnicity, especially in U.S. data [see the study of social mobility in England and Wales here].

It could still be that these income inequalities show the enterprising graduates can market themselves globally.  However, we would then expect to find such polarisation in all the advanced economies, but this is not so—highly unequal economies are found in the USA and the UK, but not in Japan.  This could be just the result of a time lag, but ‘the existing evidence points to the fact that there are significant societal differences in the way labour markets, employment and rewards are organised and distributed’ (40).  In other words, there are factors producing excess inequality in the U.S. and UK that cannot be explained by the emergence of a global market alone.  Neoclassical economics is also responsible, with its policies of ‘flexible labour markets and competitive individualism’ (40).  It is not just that people with lower skills cannot operate with the new technologies, and thus do not earn as much, nor are labour rigidities responsible [citing a study page 40].

Indeed, it looks as if the higher earners are pursuing policies of ‘”wealth extraction” rather than the development of sustainable forms of “wealth creation”’ (40).  It also seems likely that those in business and law are able to gain greater return to their degree: in the USA ‘the wages of computer specialists and engineers actually fell relative to high school graduates’ (40, original emphasis).

It looks as if investing in human capital was responsible for increased income, but it is now losing its capacity to provide competitive advantage: higher education has expanded nationally and globally.  The old benefits seem to have arisen in specific conditions in the past ‘where access to higher education was limited to a few’ (41), and when skilled workers from developing countries were less available.  Thus, credentialisation is expanding, but the overall value of a credential is falling, except for a few.  In these circumstances, acquiring a degree should best be seen as a defensive measure, ‘a necessary investment to have any chance of getting a decent job’ (41).

The whole knowledge economy thesis depends on the view that knowledge or intellectual capital becomes a major way of creating wealth.  However, this depends on several circumstances, such as the speed of change; the emergence of regular new issues which require expert analysis; that people continue to retain intellectual capital as their own property.  In particular, the thesis ignores the possibility of routinisation of knowledge, which clearly has an uneven impact on different sectors.  Knowledge can be ‘captured in computer software, work manuals or written procedures’ (42).  The profit motive still drives this process [a strong hint of the deskilling thesis, of course].  Standardisation is as important as innovation as a competitive strategy.  As well as enabling employers to retain control, it also permits globalization.

Knowledge work can be understood in terms of Bernstein’s distinction between strong and weak classification and frames [a famous old discussion of different kinds of curriculum in schools, originally based on Durkheim!] Standardisation produces both stronger classifications and stronger frames, reducing worker autonomy and increasing routine.

The distinction between autonomy and discretion on the one hand, and routine on the other enables further comment on matters such as the position of graduates in non graduate work.  Graduates bring a bonus to non graduate work, so to speak.  This is useful, given that middle management jobs have been stripped out, leaving a communication gap between senior managers and workers.  More people now have to cope with greater complexity [so this is a kind of middle management de-standardisation?], and this is where graduates are supposedly better.  However, there is no need for the famous autonomy allegedly introduced by university education—graduates simply explain and mediate [a bit like open university tutors!].  This attracts lower wages than exercising autonomy, since employers do not require the full graduate skill set [this makes it also sound extremely rational].

Studies are cited to show a decrease in level of discretion required among managers and other professionals, including those in education [this seems to be based on self reported data].  An example is provided by retail banking—electronic banking leads to a decline in middle management and its typical roles which included discretionary judgements about loans.  The system has been standardised, and judgments made by a computer program.  All that managers now do is public relations, and lower paid employees increasingly do that.  This sort of work now does not actually now require high levels of education, although university graduates continue to be employed for their communication skills and their ‘behavioural competence’ [the old ideologies about working in teams?]. Micro management is increasing in terms of regulating processes as well as outcomes—‘through the use of software programs that monitor emails and telephone conversations, along with the use of electronic manuals that prescribe many aspects of the job that can be easily updated to meet changing circumstances’ (44).

These strategies are not uniform, either across the globe, or within companies [indeed, they have been resisted quite successfully in education, and might even have led to upskilling, the old debate suggests --see Lawn, M. and Ozga, J. (1988) The Educational Worker? A reassessment of teachers, in Ozga, J. (ed) Schoolwork Approaches to the Labour Process of Teaching, Milton Keynes: Open University Press].  Some work remains essentially creative and individual.  However, ‘knowledge without power’ is becoming important in the labour market.  [At last...], the value of communication and knowledge seems to depend as much on institutionalised assumptions and beliefs as rational practice.  In particular, clients need to be convinced that larger fees are legitimate, and personal relations are crucial here: ‘Management consultants, for instance, not only have to be convincing to colleagues but to clients and customers.  They must define and epitomise valued knowledge’ (45). This means an emphasis on ‘appearance, speech, deportment and social confidence’ (45).

For graduates aiming to enter employment in a major multinational, therefore, it is not enough just to be technically good.  They need to come from a world class university [and to have lots of cultural capital].  For this sector, ‘the knowledge economy is close to reality’ (46).  [except that technical knowledge itself is not at stake].  Competition is increasing severely.  For others, increasing economic vulnerability is their fate.

Politicians and employers alike want to raise the technical and social skills of graduates.  This has become focused almost entirely on the policy of raising standards and extending access to university, however.  Yet competition for valuable credentials and good jobs remains as tough as ever.  Focusing on individual employability in human capital rather than on creating jobs ‘is a political sleight of hand that shifts the responsibility for employment firmly on to the shoulders of individuals rather than the state’ (46).  The new emphasis on broad employability skills serves only to help employers select among large numbers of applicants, and shows up the view that it is technical credentials that are crucial [a view supported by Williams, D., Brown, P. and Hesketh, A. (2006) How to Get the Best Graduate Job: Insider Strategies for Success in the Graduate Job Market. London: Pearson Education Limited.]  This leaves applicants relatively powerless to contest decisions [and may reintroduce class ethnic or gender bias, Brown and Lauder feel, page 46] because getting the job is no longer just a matter of being able to do it.

In this way just raising standards of skill will not provide a solution to inequality.  Competitiveness and social conflict has intensified.  There are even significant strands inside occupations.  Overall, we have seen 'the creation of a winner-takes-all market' (47).  Excessive competition misallocates the talented and congests markets.  There is no point in individuals struggling to gain qualifications if everyone is doing the same.  The result will be an 'opportunity trap that is forcing people to spend more time, effort and money trying to access the education, certificates and jobs they want, with fewer guarantees that their aspirations will be realised' (46, original emphasis).

Focusing on raising standards simply ignores the effects of existing inequalities of wealth and culture.  These can obviously affect access to high quality educational experiences.  There is already conflict among the middle classes as a result, and an increasing elitism: 'the children from middle class backgrounds that failed to gain access to [elite] universities will be left to fight over the scraps' (47).  There is a growing global hierarchy of universities, with elite American and European universities at the top.  These universities favour those from rich backgrounds.  Social mobility evidence is cited in support (48).  [But we learned above, that even these elite universities are unlikely to be able to deliver high earning jobs, when Chinese and Indian universities really get going].  Thus international elites have probably benefited most in the development of a global knowledge economy.  Those members insisting on operating in what are still seen as largely meritocratic systems will be seen as holding back their children [surely not, they are already superbly adapted to bending the rules in allegedly meritocratic systems, having it both ways as a result].  However, if things get worse, social elites may be able to shop globally.  Centre left policies which simply insist on expanding higher education places will be totally inadequate.

Overall, the ‘magnet economy’ claims to be able to solve issues of inequality and conflict by investing in education and human capital, but such a model is not supported by the evidence.  There is already evidence of people being over qualified for their jobs.  The demand for skills is at best uneven across occupations and industries.  Employers are able to demand soft social skills—'drive, commitment and business awareness…  Social confidence and emotional intelligence…  Able to work without close supervision…  Willing to embrace change rather than resist it' (48).  These are non technical requirements [to put it mildly].

There is no simple linear connection between levels of skills and technological evolution.  The demand for technical skills may have reached its limit.  Standardisation is increasing, as a requirement to export work to developing countries.  Developing countries already have good supplies of highly skilled workers and low wages.  One estimate suggests that companies in the USA can save $30,000,000,000 by exporting work.  There simply are not enough good quality jobs available, and no signs of meritocratic employment practices.  It is no good looking to the global market, because China and India are competing effectively there already.

The value of the credential is facing diminishing returns, both at home and abroad.  Investing in human capital will not reduce inequality, of income, or of any other kind.  Indeed, the operation of the market will widen the differences between the very richest and the rest.  The development of a global market has made things worse, and put a premium on accessing internationally recognized universities, further favouring elites at the expense of the middle classes.  The full deployment of all kinds of capitals, including cultural and social capital, are needed to gain access, and competition increasingly goes on at a global scale.

There is now a crisis in 'the management of expectations' [come back Hopper, all is forgiven].  Discontent is increasing as more and more people find that their degree fails to deliver the good standard of living, and as companies increasingly find themselves with over qualified employees.  Middle class groups in particular will witness a declining return for their efforts, and there are signs that they are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the promises of higher education.  There is little sign that this will produce a left wing politics, however.  It is more likely to lead to national protectionism.

Overall, the magnet economy model is too simple, and a new grasp of complexity is required.

James, S., Warhurst, C. Tholen, G.  and Commander J.  (2013) What we know and what we need to know about graduates skills.  Work, employment and society, 27(6): 952-63.

[This is quite a high powered recent study funded by ESRC and others, maybe including OECD.  What is startling is the way it asks really basic questions, which apparently have not been answered, about the extremely common and persistent view that universities should produce skilled people in order to foster national economic performance.]

The Leitch Report in 2006 was one of a series of reports stretching over a number of years, arguing that higher education should be devoted to upskilling the workforce.  The production of higher skilled workers would accompany organizational development that moved companies 'up the product value chain'(953).  The Browne Report of 2011 continues to assert this policy.

We now know that economic downturn is produced by a number of factors other than labour supply [!], but there was already evidence that producing more graduates did not have the expected impact.  Some European countries, for example have lower higher education participation rates but more productive economies.  The UK economy has not become more competitive.  'Unemployment among graduates has risen, and risen most steeply for recent graduates, around one in five of whom is now unemployed (ONS, 2012)'.

The research on graduate skills has been too narrow.  For governments, there has been a narrow focus on supply, and only recently has the government began to research demand, but here there is still insufficient evidence about what graduate skill is and how they are to be employed.  For example, there is no attempt to distinguish between graduates skills, acquired the university, and the skills of graduates, which they have picked up while studying at university, from their homes or temporary employment, for example.

Unlike the Netherlands, the link between higher education and employment in the UK 'is relatively loose' (954).  Graduate employability has never been clearly defined—it refers both to the demand for work experience and commercial awareness on the part of employers, and the government's desire to step up the 'ideas driven knowledge economy', which tends to stress analytic skills.  The HEA [Higher Education Association]  has increasingly attempted to prescribe these in general terms, not limited to subjects — 'to "analyse and reason" in maths, "pursue problem solutions in English, "sift interpret and organise…  information" in classics and ancient history, "exercise reflection and critical judgment"' (954).[ See Roggero on this].  Skills are not measured directly, of course, but are assumed to be embedded in qualifications.  Policy has focused on supplying people with graduate qualifications, and then seeing what occupations they enter using the standard International Standard Classification of Occupations.  These occupations are then grouped into nine major categories in a hierarchy.  Major group two is the professions, and that now expects level 4 skills (a degree). 

In 2012, 1/4 graduates entered these professions.  There seems to be an oversupply of graduates compared to jobs in this group.  Overall, 'There are now 30 to 40% more graduates than jobs needing graduates as measured by skill level…  And over a third of new graduates are now employed in lower skill level jobs not requiring a degree.' Graduates are now increasingly entering occupations previously regarded as non graduate.  Some researchers now talk about jobs that graduates do rather than graduate jobs, and they include certain areas where most workers do not have degrees 'occupations such as leisure and sports, and hotel and accommodation managers'.  Such graduates are likely to experience lower job satisfaction and organizational commitment.  It seems as if graduates can certainly work alongside non graduates, 'suggesting that there is no simple conversion of an occupation from being non graduate to graduate [but rather] occupational hybridity' (955).

This possible underutilization of graduate skill might already being solved by a connection between levels of occupation and type of university: 'the newer universities' graduates enter the associate professions... major group three requiring sub degree qualifications'.  Some of these occupations are attempting to become professionalized, requiring graduate entry—'One such example is Risk Managers'.

So far, this is still a focused on supply, with demand left unanalysed.  This can encourage policy makers to insist there is progress being made toward a knowledge based economy, especially in 'narratives about upskilled economies' (956).  What this leaves out is whether changes in occupational level really reflect a demand for graduate skills.  Physiotherapists, for example, have been successfully professionalized, 'while their workplace skills have generally remained the same'.  [it might even be the opposite case with teachers, all graduate since 1970, but increasingly deskilled clericalized and casualized in the workplace].  Some employers are simply recruiting graduates because they can, for example '1/5 UK estate agents are now graduates, despite almost universal agreement among employers and employees that the job requires only compulsory education level skills'.  Employers pick those with the better qualifications, but they also higher on the background of 'a wide array of skills (basic, interpersonal, analytical etc) as well as personality traits and demographic background'.  The CBI argues that 'only 20% of the weighting in employer decisions relate to hard skills or qualifications', and employers also seem to respond to the the status of the awarding body, the type of qualification (academic, vocational) and the level of qualification.

There is no analysis of whether graduate skills are actually being deployed [this is 'skills utilization' in the current jargon, apparently].  Research is still 'limited and patchy'.  Overall though, employers do not seem particularly to be demanding skills, or using them when possessed by the work force.  Despite government encouragement, 'employers remain reticent about maximizing employee skills — most obviously because there is little perceived business' need to do so' (957).  Employers seem able to influence what counts as a skill anyway, and they are have been talking about generic skills such as influencing or soft skills rather than technical competence.  The required list is growing, and now even includes 'being good at managing emotion'.  However, these are not credentialized [yet], which means employers are often unaware of the skills possessed by the work force.  There is also a greater diversity even within the same apparent skill level.  In occupations such as leisure and sports or hotel and accommodation, customer interaction is more important than technical tasks, unlike say in engineering companies.

There is little examination of where graduates get the skills from: it is just assumed that higher education is relevant.  However, one study suggests that soft skills are acquired through informal socialization [references here include Goldthorpe 2003 The myth of education - based meritocracy.  New Economy 10: 234-39].  When considering emotional labour, we might simply be describing '"middle class sociability"'.  There is also the hidden curriculum to consider [references here include Willis and Bourdieu].  Skills can also be acquired through workplace socialization, increasingly common given the increase in students doing paid work, work experience and internships.

We need to investigate these issues if we are to understand 'why increased participation in higher education has failed to deliver superior economic performance' (958).  The policy seems to have remained unchanged, with the supply of graduates still at a high level [and high fees justified in terms of occupational returns].  What is needed is more specific research on the skills that graduates bring to particular occupations, where they get them from, and how they use them.  This would require research before or during and after university, and research that focuses on how graduates skills' are used.  In particular, we need to investigate skill development, skill supply [for example how employers get to know about them], skill demanded explicitly by employers during recruitment and selection [there is a nice ESRC study on this], and how skills are actually utilised.  Naturally, these are interrelated [with the classic four stage circular diagram on page 960].  Case studies of particular occupations might be pursued, for example on UK estate agents, and on the ways in which individuals change their and skills.

[My reaction to this is that this highly respectable source has finely discovered what has been suggested for a long time—that the knowledge economy thesis, with all its pushing towards vocationalism, the skills agenda and all that, has never been based on any particularly strong evidence or research.  What this analysis needs, therefore, is to understand these policies not as rational accounts of how to modernize the economy, but more as ideologies.  The critical stuff on precarity would make a good starting point].

Arksey, H and Harris D ( 2007) How to Succeed in Your Social Science Degree. Sage: London

[This was written as a student guide but it presents some fairly recent literature. It also adds another dimension to the graduate skills debate -- that students can also try to define what skills they have in response to the more 'objective' studies. They are not just passive underdogs responding to an impersonal market. Apologies for the format, by the way. You will need to go to the book to get references and other links:


There are some sources of information that we can draw upon which will give us clues about what is required by employers in general, but such information can be incomplete or misleading. Individual employers may well vary in terms of what it is they are looking for, and, sometimes, there may be semi-conscious or unconscious preferences involved as well. These preferences can lie beneath the usual lists of ‘skills’ that are often produced by surveys of major employers.

The major implication that follows is that students should be prepared to research the wants and requirements of particular employers for particular jobs, sometimes in considerable detail. These will often be supplied in the form of job description and person description details that are provided with application forms. General knowledge of the company or body concerned is usually required too. It is a good idea to look at such application forms before you have got too far in your university career, because you may need to make sure that you can acquire relevant experience while you are at university. Williams et al. (2006) also urge students to attend recruiting fairs, not only to get specific information about jobs but also to research the values of the companies concerned. These values are often embodied clearly in the kinds of recruiters and employees that you will meet and get to talk to. You will want to present yourself as compatible with those existing employees, Williams et al. argue, so you might as well research carefully first.

Similarly, visiting the Careers Advice department should not really be left too late either. There is a range of material to help shape your ideas about careers, to make clear you know about the range of options, and to give you advice about building a useful CV, writing an application with impact, or performing effectively at interviews or subsequent assessments. You would certainly not want to be guided by stereotypes, folk knowledge and ideologies about ‘suitable’ careers -- the research literature is full of examples about how talented women, for example, have been persuaded that particular occupations are best for them (classically teaching and nursing), simply because these occupations match ideological views about women and their traditional role in society . Williams et al. (2006) suggest that employers can even try to get applicants to disqualify themselves from even applying in order to make selection easier.

Thinking about employability

Generally, there is a large amount of material on the Web which can help with a variety of activities from job-hunting to writing an efficient CV and preparing yourself for interviews and even psychometric tests. There is far too much to summarize here, but particularly good sites include the comprehensive ones run by Prospects for UK students  or Universitiesnet for US students . We have frequently mentioned Williams et al. (2006), partly because the team claim to offer the only advice based on extensive (and originally academic) research done on employers as they actually select applicants.

It is perhaps easier to motivate yourself to do this if you have a particular career in mind, of course. The obvious example here is that students who are intending to be teachers often make sure they have arranged some experience in schools while they are taking their university courses. Similarly, those intending to have a military career typically make sure they are gaining experience with the Officer Training Corps, or the reservist forces. The same remarks clearly apply to a range of other intended professions, from the police to social work and the community and youth services (to list some currently popular choices). Students thinking of the increasing popular route of self-employment should also arrange suitable experience too, of course, and bear in mind the results of a recent survey (Tackey and Perryman, 1999) which noted that:

Skills issues were important to the self-employed graduates. They relied extensively on their innovative and creative skills, which also they believed they had developed to a considerable extent at university. Other than this, there were significant gaps in acquiring and developing generic business skills such as accounting, book-keeping, product pricing, selling and, importantly, business planning. These skill deficiencies presented significant constraints to business start-up.

The emphasis on business skills raises an important point in that it is not enough to demonstrate a range of general skills or experiences without being able to show their relevance to your chosen occupation.

That still leaves a large area of relative uncertainty, however. You may be undecided about a future career, as many students are in particular subjects such as leisure, tourism and recreation studies. You may have decided that you will resume a career that you have begun before you came to university -- sometimes, a degree opens the door to promotion or re-entry at a higher level. There may well be increasing numbers of students who do not have a particular vocational destination in mind at all. This is often forgotten in policy discussions, but some mature students are classically less interested in the vocational implications of their university courses. Perhaps they are living in an area with few occupational opportunities, and are unable to move in search of work because they have family commitments locally. Perhaps they have reached an age where occupational opportunities are more limited -- ‘occupational maturity’ as it is sometimes politely called.

As usual, there will be a range of courses and other opportunities available for you to choose, and some will appear more ‘vocational’ than others. All students have to make choices between activities that will prepare them for a job, and activities that are simply interesting and appealing, without necessarily having any obvious vocational benefits -- these include leisure activity such as clubbing, extreme sports, travelling and so on. Some activities may present particular difficulties, like membership of an environmental protest group, for example. We would not advise people not to do these activities, of course, but there may well be a need to weigh up any possible disadvantages later in life.

As the last two examples indicate at least, however, it might be possible even to finesse leisure activities as vocationally relevant, as part of what Williams et al. (2006) call the task of constructing a suitable narrative about yourself. If playing sport has made you into a more mature, well-rounded, and confident person, able to demonstrate leadership or teamwork, then this is something that employers might well need to be informed about. There is some evidence from social mobility research that suggests that employers are looking for well-rounded people with a certain amount of ‘cultural capital’ (Aldridge, 2004) as well as those with particular skills. Similarly, there may well be leisure activities that you feel you should explain or soft-pedal. Much will depend on how you attempt to fit your experience to the requirements of particular employers when you construct a suitable application and CV. You may well want to consider your university stay as providing a range of experiences that can help you adjust to particular requirements. Williams et al. (2006) call this ability to tailor what you have done to the requirements of the post for which you are applying ‘personal capital’. It involves writing about your qualities in such a way as to make it immediately obvious to the employer how you can demonstrate the competencies they require. Some basic advice follows but first of all what is known about what employers actually want in new graduates? There have been a variety of surveys, which quite often focus on the issue of ‘skills’. The sort of data that they provide are shown below.

Employability -- what is it?

Faced with a wealth of material, we decided to follow the definition of employability used by the Enhancing Student Employability Co-ordination Team (ESECT), a 30-month project completed in 2005 and run under the auspices of the (UK) Learning and Teaching Support Network (LSTN) Generic Centre . In ESECT’s view, employability is:

a set of achievements -- skills, understandings and personal attributes -- that make individuals more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations [classic circular and evasive definition].

What are employers looking for in graduate recruits?

To what extent does the ESECT definition of employability match with what employers are seeking when they appoint individuals to fill their graduate vacancies? And is it possible to put flesh on the bones of this somewhat abstract description to help you know exactly what they are aiming for? A report by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (quoted in Prospects Today, 12 November 2003) highlighted the employability skills seen as most important by employers. The top five requirements were: motivation and enthusiasm; teamworking; oral communication; flexibility and adaptability; and, intiative/proactivity. By the way, the Association of Graduate Recruiters has a useful website that contains ‘Career Hunting’ tools including a skills assessment test.

The student recruitment specialists Hobsons offer a careers service for graduates . Their annual directory of UK employers seeking to recruit graduates includes information about desirable skills and personal qualities required for over 120 job roles (CRAC, 2003). This comprehensive guide is supplied free to graduate job-seekers from universities’ or colleges’ careers services. Box 4.1 sets out those that appear most frequently, regardless of industrial sector and type of job. Here is further confirmation of the ‘soft’ skills or ‘people’ skills and personal qualities that businesses regard as important attributes that make students like you employable.

Box 4.1   Desirable skills and qualities required by employers

General skills
•    Oral communication skills, including giving presentations.
•    Written communication skills and good command of English.
•    Numeracy; practised ability to handle numerical data.
•    Computer literacy (including word processing, e-mail and the Internet).
•    Ability to gather, assess and interpret data (including noting inconsistencies).
•    Accuracy and attention to detail.
•    Creative thinking.
•    Seeing the whole picture.
•    ‘Juggling’ and ability to meet deadlines.
•    Managing own development.
•    Problem-solving.
•    Planning and prioritisation.
•    Organisation.
•    Influencing.
•    Team working (including the ability to delegate, organise, lead and motivate).
•    Ability to work alone.
•    Self-management skills.

Specialist skills
•    Specific occupational skills and specialist knowledge (for example, languages; information technology; accounting; engineering).

Personal qualities
•    Motivation and enthusiasm.
•    Interpersonal skills.
•    Flexibility and adaptability.
•    Initiative.
•    Confidence.
•    Tact and diplomacy.
•    Sense of humour.
•    Discretion.
•    Leadership.
•    Ability to get on with people at all levels.

There are, of course, more idiosyncratic ‘skills’ required for particular jobs. For example, key skills for doctors, corporate bankers and cinema managers include the ability to work long hours (CRAC, 2003). Healthcare managers, on the other hand, need to be thick-skinned and emotionally tough, as well as sensitive to the political implications of decisions. Journalists need a ‘nose’ for a story.

What is not clear from the Directory is the importance of a student’s discipline area. However, many employers take graduates of any discipline; they are as interested in your personal skills and experiences as in your degree subject. To this end, activities such as voluntary work, part-time work, working for the Students’ Union, being editor of the university’s newspaper, taking a gap year -- these can all be seen as valuable learning opportunities to enhance potential recruits’ range of skills. 

It may be higher education’s role to contribute to the development of graduates with the skills and qualities detailed in Box 4.1. For example, recent publications focus on ‘employability-friendly’ curriculum and assessment practices, and advise how these can be developed and implemented (Knight and Yorke, 2003; Knight and Yorke, 2004). Specialist units such as the Centre for Research into Quality at the University of Central England in Birmingham are exploring the issues arising from enhancing employability and making closer links between education and the world of work (Harvey et al., 2002). Even if higher education is responding to the challenges of graduate employability, that is only one side of the equation. The onus is also on students themselves to first develop and secondly to refine to enhanced levels of complexity those skills and qualities viewed as highly desirable by employers. They then need to learn how to tell employers about these skills and qualities to maximum effect.

In the following pages, we present principles and techniques that have the potential to promote both good academic achievements as well as a range of interpersonal and transferable skills that can be adapted to changing labour market circumstances and organizational needs. 

Transferable skills

This list is one of many provided over the years by surveys of various kinds, and many universities now offer explicit advice, guidance, or even additional courses on acquiring transferable skills. This has affected even elite universities, with the University of Cambridge acknowledging ‘its responsibility in the provision of opportunities to develop transferable skills, but [placing] the responsibility for doing so ... with students taking advantage of the opportunities provided’. The University (University of Cambridge Education Section, 2005) specifies that skills to be developed by all students include:

•    Intellectual Skills (for example, critical, analytical, synthesising and problem-solving skills);
•    Communication Skills (written and oral);
•    Organizational Skills (for example, working independently, taking initiative, time management);
•    Interpersonal Skills (for example, working with motivating others, flexibility/adaptability).

Other skills, including research skills, numeracy, computer literacy, and foreign language skills are also available, but the University notes that ‘Where the skills are not integral to the subject, the acquisition should be through activities such as voluntary study, extra-curricular activities or work experience’. These might be important to emphasize for any students failing to realize the possibilities offered by modern universities, and it is one answer to a misunderstanding which we have heard voiced more than once -- that universities only require attendance for a few hours a week. This may be true for officially-timetabled teaching -- but there is nothing to stop anyone seeking out other opportunities to build up their skills portfolios in non-timetabled time.

There is an enormous amount of material including programmes and lists of skills found in electronic format, as a search of the Web will indicate. There seems to be quite considerable consensus among university providers about the nature and content of transferable skills, sometimes with slightly different emphases. For example, the University of Minnesota (University of Minnesota Duluth, 2002) has a very useful questionnaire that students can use to assess the extent of their transferable skills. The headings indicate the general categories:

•    Communication (the skilful expression, transmission and interpretation of knowledge and ideas);
•    Research and Planning (the search for specific knowledge and the ability to conceptualize future needs and solutions for meeting those needs);
•    Human Relations (the use of interpersonal skills for resolving conflict, relating to and helping people);
•    Organization, Management and Leadership (the ability to supervise, direct and guide individuals and groups and the completion of tasks and fulfillment of goals).

This site is also particularly helpful in adding a further section on ‘Work Survival (the day-to-day skills which assist in promoting effective production and work satisfaction)’. This section carries people on into work and suggests that they need to develop skills to survive and become effective in the work situation. We discuss this important idea below. This section specifies skills such as ‘implementing decisions; cooperating; enforcing policies; being punctual; managing time; attending to detail; meeting goals; enlisting help; accepting responsibility; setting deadlines; organizing; making decisions’.

You can see by looking at the boxes that university programmes and lists do seem to correspond pretty closely to those skills that employers have specified in their own lists of requirements. What this means is that universities themselves are well aware of the need to provide you with more than just academic knowledge. Indeed, as the University of Cambridge specifies, there is an expectation that you do more at university than just attend lectures and seminars, and produce assignments. The ideal student, it seems, would also rapidly identify possible gaps in their CV, and set out to remedy the situation by using their leisure time to acquire transferable skills that they may lack. Many universities will offer courses outside the formal requirements, and these may include language skills and computer skills, for example. We know that some also offer students a chance to gain coaching qualifications.

Other approaches to discovering what employers want

In a very interesting recent survey of job advertisements (Jackson, 2001), there is a strong suggestion that employers are increasingly interested in what might be seen as informal skills. The paper is a sociological piece testing the extent to which Britain has become meritocratic, and it points out that despite all the general policies to widen access to higher education, and to make it more vocationally relevant, at the end of the day it is individual employers themselves who decide what counts as ‘merit’. Jackson set out to explore this by surveying a large number of job advertisements in a wide range of British newspapers. She found that formal qualifications were important most of all in the professions, but even there, other indications of ‘merit’ were important (Jackson, 2001: 22). These included: 

•    cognitive abilities (such as being able to organise a workload);
•    job commitment characteristics (including positive attitudes, reliability, flexibility, the ability to work under pressure);
•    technical skills (including secretarial or numeracy skills); experience and track record;
•    social skills (being a team player, working well with clients, and being able to communicate effectively).

There were also other ‘personal characteristics’, including appearance and presentation, politeness, confidence, having a good sense of humour.

Overall, Jackson thinks that her data indicate that these qualities are every bit as important as formal qualifications, except in the one occupational sector of service professionals. Overall, ‘the role of education is now, if anything, becoming less important in the modern industrial society’ (Jackson, 2001: 19). This adds further to the point made above about employers’ relative lack of interest in actual subjects studied at university.

We have heard many students and their parents say the same sort of thing. There is a widespread suspicion that ‘everyone now has a degree’, which is not actually the case, of course. Jackson’s data add to this skepticism by pointing out that there is no automatic mechanism which guarantees graduates a job, and individual employers still have the right to decide who they want to employ and on what grounds. This is confirmed by Williams et al. (2006) as we have demonstrated earlier.

What implications follow for the new student? At the most extreme, we have known students who have abandoned university study, having gained some other route into employment, such as a place on a trainee management scheme. If your motivation is of the ‘push’ kind (where you feel driven to want to seek improvement on your current position), another route out of your existing situation may meet the requirement. At the other extreme, we have known students who have decided that since no jobs can be guaranteed from the possession of a degree, they might as well choose courses or universities that they will enjoy, regardless of their vocational relevance. This is the sort of ‘pull’ motivation (where the new destination attracts in its own right).

We have also heard views that the main purpose of going to university is not actually to study as hard as possible, but to make friends and contacts for future employment, to acquire not educational capital, but ‘social capital’, in Bourdieu’s terms (see also Putnam, 2000). Social capital is gained from a number of sources, principally networking, which we have recommended before.

The concept of social capital has actually become an important one in recent government policy as well, in fact, where it is seen as a key to understanding how some people can survive and become socially included, and get themselves out of unemployment and poverty. Even the World Bank notes the importance of social capital in generating economic growth on a global scale (World Bank, no date). The essence of social capital is well within the central concerns of social sciences in general -- it depends on communication and developing trust between people, as we shall see below.

As the structure of this chapter indicates, many social scientists began thinking at first about employability for graduates in terms of providing vocational skills that employers would want to recognize and reward. The social sciences duly went through a substantial ‘vocational turn’ in the 1990s, focusing on the contribution of the disciplines involved to more specific courses in social work, youth and community, teaching, social administration and the like. Many of the courses that seemed to be particularly vocationally relevant thrived: they included research methods courses above all. Research methods courses are obvious ways to gain important skills of numeracy, ITC and communication skills, as well as offering a directly relevant expertise which can easily find its way into commercial market research, or policy evaluation. Our advice to students in those days would have been to make sure they signed on for such courses in particular. 

However, there is now also a more general sense of thinking about preparing for the world of work. There seems to be a demand for more general skills as we have seen. We began advising students to rethink their university experiences in terms of transferable skills. For example, giving presentations to other students could be fairly unpopular (we discuss presentations in Chapter 6), but those who gave presentations could claim to have practised a transferable skill -- being able to communicate to others in a group. Group project work could be seen in terms of developing the important skill of working with others. Many of our students discovered that their colleagues could be surprisingly challenging to work with, in fact, and would have very different ideas about the commitment required or the organization of the work. Some students avoided group project work as a result. We tried to encourage them not to do so, but to see the problems as providing essential experience in learning about working with others. Finally, dissertations could be time consuming and demanding, but, apart from their other merits, they can also be seen as indicating important abilities like being able to solve problems and work on your own initiative. We return to the pros and cons of dissertations in more detail towards the end of the book (Chapters 7, 8 and 9).

This way of looking at academic work is still an essential part of the advice that students receive. Sometimes students are encouraged to note down the activities that they have undertaken, writing them up in terms of transferable skills, and recording the results on various portfolios or record cards. Schools often encourage this too, so that generations of students are accustomed to thinking of themselves as having ‘records of attainment’. As tutors, we would often encourage students to list a wide range of things they had done, on various record forms, and to write them up in ‘vocational’ terms. These materials can become a useful archive in devising application forms or CVs.

To take some examples, we have persuaded students to share with us some of the activities they have undertaken as part of their normal workload, without seeing their possible vocational importance, including:

A Media Studies student who got interested in editing and learned how to use some basic online editing software in her spare time.

A Sociology student who learned to use Microsoft Excel to display the data for his group project.

Leisure Studies students who organized and carried out a survey of visitors to a local heritage site.

A Media Studies student who became Fixtures Secretary of the ladies’ football team.

Two Community Studies students who attended a short course on writing CVs.

Education Studies students who got themselves some voluntary work working with children with learning difficulties.

Sports Studies students who helped organize a school sports day.

A Sociology student who completed a local Certificate in Religious Education -- she was not particularly religious herself but was interested in the ‘spiritual’ dimension to social life and was keen to explore the position of those who had definite faiths.

More recently, and partly inspired by some of the research we have just mentioned, we have started to see student leisure activities as having an important vocational dimension. We always saw them as important in personal terms, and as part of the pleasures of being relatively independent. Now, it seems, they are recognized as having quite an important role in preparing people for work as well. Leisure activities can also now usefully be recorded in terms of providing ‘social skills’, which is maybe what employers are increasingly looking for. There may well be an element of ‘talking up’ activities here, but there is a genuine benefit in reinterpreting for CV purposes collective leisure activities in terms of being able to cooperate with others, demonstrate responsibility and leadership, indicate motivation and enthusiasm, confidence, a sense of humour, and an ability to get on with people at all levels. It is certainly no longer enough just to mention these activities -- you need to interpret them in the right ways.

Try this for yourselves -- what transferable social skills or competencies are involved in playing for the College sports teams? Acting as Secretary for a student club? Working as a lifeguard? NB: the website Prospects has an exercise which can offer a few clues:

Table 4.1  Skills developed from interests

Skills developed
Climbing Snowdon Leadership



Music band (play regularly at local venues) Commitment




Source: The Art of Building Windmills: Career Tactics for the 21st Century, Dr Peter Hawkins and the Graduates into Employment Unit (GIEU, 1999)

Activity 4.1

Try something even more ambitious. Re-write in terms which show the transferable skills and competencies involved in:
•    Taking a gap year and travelling.
•    Campaigning for the abolition of vivisection.
•    Raising a ‘blended’ family.
•    Looking after an elderly parent or guardian.

Interesting implications follow, and some rather ironic ones. It may be that the seemingly least vocational courses, even the ‘liberal arts’ subjects at university, might actually help to develop the kind of social skills that now seem to be in substantial demand (Taylor, 2005). It may be that one of the more vocationally relevant activities you can do at University is to join the right sort of club or informal social group, and widen your experiences of life, although this assumes you will also have achieved a reasonable overall class of degree.

We suggest that you recalculate the balance between academic and social activities. Overall though, the implication cannot be shirked. In opposition to the usual advice given in study skills books, and just as a provocation to get you thinking, you might wish to focus on employability by placing social activities equally at the centre of your university life, at least once you are sure you can  complete the academic tasks!

This may not be quite the good news that it seems, of course. Jackson and others have pointed out that an emphasis on social skills for employment gives a great advantage to those who are brought up in elite backgrounds already. As with ‘cultural capital’, qualities such as ‘tact and diplomacy’ or ‘discretion’ may have been well developed by particular kinds of family upbringing long before those privileged young people entered university. Indeed, those apparently simple ‘skills’, as listed above, might just be coded references to elite ways of behaving in the first place. We do not want to discourage anybody here, but it is true that an elite social background can provide ways of behaving and acting that provide a considerable advantage: as we saw with Bourdieu’s work, these qualities seem to ‘come naturally’ to the elite.

However, we are not suggesting that you must come from an elite background to demonstrate qualities like ‘tact and diplomacy’, nor that people from elite backgrounds are paragons who always act with tact and diplomacy. The situation seems to require the research stance that we have been advocating throughout. You can learn a lot by watching people from various backgrounds who can demonstrate some of the desirable qualities employers seem to want. It is a matter of widening your horizons and learning what seems useful again. If this is a relevant orientation for you, it is something to look out for in seminars and in informal social gatherings.

Activity 4.2
How do some students (or lecturers) always appear at ease in different groups?
How do they manage to disagree with others with tact and diplomacy? What do they actually say? How do they behave?
How do they maintain their sense of humour?

In fact, students of social sciences are at a particular advantage in the job market in this one respect. People often come equipped with social capital from their family backgrounds or the communities in which they live, we have suggested. Everyone belongs to such a group, and students should not let other groups devalue their own social expertise. This kind of social capital is what the UK Performance and Innovation Unit (2002) calls ‘bonding social capital’ -- because it helps develop solidarity among members. However, equally important, if not more so, is ‘bridging’ and ‘linking’ social capital, enabling bonds of communication to be formed between ethnic groups and social classes respectively. This is where students from non middle-class backgrounds can really score because they can use their time at university to build such bridges and links. Taking a social science course provides exactly the sort of theoretical and research skills to be able to do this and to talk convincingly about it afterwards.

The new vocational emphasis of social science courses, one which is well worth stressing in your CV and job application forms, could help us understand others. To take a really recent example, some application forms for various UK police services around the country are asking students to address particular ‘scenarios’. One of them is dealing with a person from another ethnic grouping who wants to argue strongly against your position. Personal experience in being able to take the viewpoint of another person as a detached research stance, and a grasp of the basics of the formation of ethnic identity will obviously help score points here.

Activity 4.3
To round off this chapter, why not conduct your own audit of your stocks of different sorts of capital: We hope you can add to your stocks after reading this book, of course. You can be absolutely honest in your answers here, since only you will be reading them.

What kind of educational capital do you have:
•    knowledge related to the course you are going to take, gained from previous courses?
•    knowledge of study skills and learning patterns?

What kind of cultural capital do you have:
•    knowledge of current affairs, arts, ways of life in different countries, languages?
•    knowledge of academic life and academic values?

What kind of social capital?
•    Bonding -- what sort of social groups do you feel at home with and feel you know well already?
•    Bridging -- have you encountered any other social groups? How would you go about trying to relate to groups with different social backgrounds, religious beliefs, sexual orientations? What do you know about such groups already? Do you have strong views about them already, and if so, what are they based on exactly? How could you find out more about groups like this?

What kind of personal capital?
•    How can you interpret what you have done in a way that will persuade employers that you have exactly the sort of competencies and qualities for which they are looking? Can you tell a good story about yourself? Can you explain to others the value of what you have studied and what you have done while you have been at university? Can you demonstrate the vocational relevance of (a selection of) the activities you have recorded?