The purpose of this article is to explore a theoretical framework for the enhancement of employability in postgraduate education through analysing the case of the United Kingdom by a literature review. A particular focus is placed upon linkages between the higher education system and employment system of each nation. Results of the research are expected to have implications for departmental practitioners, institutional managers and policy makers as well as researchers.
International comparative data on participation in postgraduate education indicates the smaller size of the postgraduate student population in Japan than in other developed countries. In Japan, the increase in provision of postgraduate education has not been to meett an increased demand in the labour market, and has resulted in more and more PhDs who are unemployed or only temporarily employed. Even though a working professional completes a MBA or other postgraduate course, generally speaking, neither is the degree rewarded by any pay increase, promotion and so on, nor by an enhanced chance to find a better job elsewhere.
The above situation poses a serious question for Japan's adaptation to the global knowledge society where intellectual professionals with postgraduate degrees have a key role to play. The value of postgraduate degrees and that of explicit knowledge represented by those degrees is small in Japan because employment mobility is low in the Japanese professional labour market. The mobility of professionals and the perceived economic value of explicit knowledge are correlated.
To change the equilibrium between the low demand for higher degrees and the immobility of knowledge workers in Japan, we need a policy package that aims at the recurrence of work and learning and professional job mobility and includes the enhancement of employability in postgraduate education. Employability is related to programme quality and relevance to employment. The issue of employability has been discussed and researched on more at undergraduate level and much less at postgraduate level.
This article's literature review of postgraduate education and employability in the UK reveals a number of features. These features include insufficient provision of career development services for postgraduates and some employers' prejudice against PhDs on the one hand. On the other hand, the features also contain lower unemployment rates and higher salaries for higher degree holders, and the existence of some industries and businesses employing PhDs in pursuit of their generic skills.
Through further analysis and discussion based on the literature review, the article points out increasingly better employment outcomes of UK postgraduates in recent years than previously, which implies that trends towards the globalised knowledge economy may have positively influenced postgraduates' employability. Another point emerging from the analysis is the growing significance of generic or transferable skills of postgraduates for employment or at least for the discourse of employment. The movement for the enhancement of employability in UK higher education suggests that employability-related skills development needs to be embedded into discipline-based academic education, and also that postgraduate education and training in partnership with businesses and industries is effective.
Having said the above, what postgraduate skills are often appreciated by employers is still obscure. What value added by postgraduate education distinguishes higher degree holders from first (bachelor) degree graduates is yet to be answered. These fundamental questions relate to the practical issue of what kind of education and training is effective for the enhancement of postgraduates' employability. In mentioning these points, the article urges further research, including qualitative studies.