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REFLEX — Result In Brief

Project ID: 506352
Funded under: FP6-CITIZENS
Country: Netherlands

New knowledge society calls for change in higher education

Higher education has a major role to play in building the knowledge society. However, there is important information and knowledge to be shared with other players too, that will ultimately shape Europe's educated and competent work force.
New knowledge society calls for change in higher education
The project 'The flexible professional in the knowledge society new demands on higher education in Europe' (Reflex) was established to shed some light on the demands emerging as Europe and the rest of the world move towards a knowledge society. Research and other project activities focused on higher education graduates, higher education institutions and the interactions between the two that may lead to tension, as all key actors (including employers) separately move to meet their own objectives.

Highlighting the emerging need for flexible professionals and the challenges this brings to the fore, project partners investigated how the way work is organised in companies and organisations influences the demands on graduates and their ability to meet them. Carried out in 16 countries, a major part of the EU-funded project's work involved a large-scale survey of some 70 000 graduates from higher education.

A representative sample for each country was drawn from year 1999/2000 graduates in particular programmes. The resulting report included a broad distinction between higher education programmes offering direct access to a PhD (second-level programmes) and those that do not (first-level programmes). Results indicate that, overall, graduates from European higher education systems fare well on the labour market, with produced human capital being used on the labour market. Most graduates reported that their skills and knowledge were sufficiently used; however, one in four working graduates noted that this was not the case for their competences.

Other outcomes pointed to the danger of a weak link between higher education programmes and particular areas of employment. An example of this was evident in the case of the United Kingdom: a higher average (in comparison to most of the countries studied) of graduates hold a lower level job, or one in which their knowledge and skills are not being fully utilised.

On examination of positive labour market outcomes, Reflex was able to relate a high level of professional expertise to earnings and the effective utilisation of skills as well as mobilisation of human resources. As such, the former calls for further development in the graduate education setting, while the latter needs to be recognised as important to employment opportunities, utilisation of skills, and earnings, which in turn facilitate further development of an individual's competences. A noteworthy finding was that functional flexibility is not positively related with most outcomes. Related competences appear to protect graduates in situations calling for flexibility, without the labour market actually or directly rewarding them for being able to do so.

the study also took an in-depth look at modes of teaching, the relative worth of demanding programmes, relevant work experience, gender, age and grades — all as related to labour market outcomes.

based on the study's conclusions, the researchers identified various policy implications relevant, among others, to the European commission, national governments, employers, higher education institutions and students. Detailed recommendations were made for each interest group; as such, these have the potential to inform better decisions and policy initiatives on the path toward educating the workers of tomorrow.

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