Past Event details

Higher education and labour market outcomes: learning from the global South

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Higher education and labour market outcomes: learning from the global South

This seminar presents an in-depth engagement with the role of HE qualifications in relation to labour market outcomes. Drawing on insights from South Africa, the presenters problematize assumptions of a straightforward connection between HE qualifications and the labour market, and discuss the importance of broader understandings of the way HE interacts with society.


Higher education qualifications and the labour market: Exploring the relationships from a South African perspective

Stephanie Allais, Professor and SARChI Research Chair in Education and Skills, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Volker Wedekind, Associate Professor in Vocational Education and Director of the Nottingham UNEVOC Centre, University of Nottingham

One consequence of massification of higher education has been increasing pressure for universities to be responsive to signals from the labour market. For example, there is increasing emphasis on the role of curricula and pedagogy in providing students with sets of competences and dispositions that enable them to maximise their chances within the market place for skills. But such policy responses draw on superficial responses to complex relationships. Drawing on research in the South African context, Stephanie Allais and Volker Wedekind examine the relationship between higher education, qualifications and the labour market.

Stephanie Allais will draw on the body of research literature and evaluations of higher education outcomes to explore how this literature understands the relationship between higher education and the economy. She will suggest that relationships between higher education, society and the economy are more complex than is generally understood. She argues that much of the focus of research and systemic evaluation of graduate outcomes  is  focused  on  benefits,  and  not  on  interrelationships  or  interactions, and therefore can easily trap us in a fairly superficial set of debates and analyses about how higher education interacts with society. To  make  this  case,  she will use  an  analytic  distinction  between  the  developmental  and  the  screening roles of education (Halliday, 2015). Education plays a role in screening (or signalling) and sorting individuals according to academic criteria, within education and training systems, and  from  education  and  training  systems  into  labour  markets  and  workplaces. It is also meant to play a wider developmental role for both individual and societies. Much South African (and to some extent international) literature on the role of higher education in society does not adequately pull out the differences between these two roles, which need to be understood in their own right in order to attempt to gain insight into the complexity of interrelationships between higher education and the rest of the education and training system, as well as between the education and training system and the labour market. What is also important is to look at the ways in which these relationships shape each other.

Drawing on case studies conducted for a large scale study into labour market intelligence in South Africa, Volker Wedekind will examine how some of these processes work at the level of qualifications that are intended to lead to specific occupational outcomes. The case studies are located in the agro-processing sector focused on pulp and paper, forestry and sugar, offered through a range of higher education institutions. The programmes were designed through interaction with industry and have strong employment focused outcomes. The cases show that there are a range of unintended consequences. The study found that the outcomes are shaped, not by issues of curriculum or pedagogy in the main, but rather by wider social and economic factors that are outside the educational space. While there is pressure on universities and colleges to adjust and respond in a variety of ways, this responsiveness can in fact misread the real drivers of the education-economy nexus and even undermine the value of the qualifications for students.


Stephanie Matseleng Allais is Research Chair of Skills Development and Professor of Education at the Centre for Researching Education and Labour at Wits University. Her research is located in the sociology and political economy of education, focused on relationships between education and work. She was a fellow at the Centre for Educational Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, and before this managed and conducted research into qualifications frameworks in 16 countries for the International Labour Organization. She has worked in government, distance education, trade union education, teaching high school, teaching adult basic education and training, and leading a student organization. She served on many committees by appointment of Ministers of Education in South Africa, and has been involved in numerous policy processes.

Volker Wedekind is Associate Professor of Vocational Education in the Centre for International Education Research at the University of Nottingham and is coordinator of the UNEVOC Centre at Nottingham. He is an honorary Associate Professor at the University of Witwatersrand.

His research has focused on education policy from a sociological perspective, and has focused on policy effect on teachers and curriculum and more recently on vocational education policy, vocational pedagogy and the role of vocational education for migrants.  He has had extensive experience working on policy processes in South Africa as a member of a number of ministerial committees and on statutory bodies.


Session timings


11.30 Welcome, introductions and setting the scene
Ann-Marie Bathmaker, Technical, Professional and Vocational Higher Education Network Co-Convenor, University of Birmingham

12.00-13.00 Stephanie Matseleng Allais, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

13.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00-15.00 Volker Wedekind, University of Nottingham

15.00-15.30 Plenary discussion and questions

15.30 Close



Network: Technical, Professional and Vocational Higher Education
Date(s): Wednesday, 26 June 2019
Times: 11:30 - 15:30
Location: SRHE, 73 Collier St, London N1 9BE
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