Universities of Applied Sciences can do more for equal opportunities in the labour market

Graduates from Dutch Universities of Applied Sciences who have a migrant background experience more difficulty finding jobs than do other graduates. Employers’ selection procedures and discrimination are often cited as major reasons. However, a recent study by the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) at Maastricht University (UM) and the research agency headed by Eva Klooster found that degree programmes should also make changes to promote equal access to the labour market. The study of Higher Professional Education (HBO) programmes at Universities of Applied Sciences was based on around 8000 questionnaires completed by graduates and 75 interviews held with students, teaching staff and employers. The report, which has been published today, was commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW).

It has previously been established that choice of degree programme partly explains some of the differences in opportunities in the labour market: students with a migrant background more often choose a degree programme with less favourable prospects. But the researchers have now revealed that differences affecting graduates’ position in the labour market also arise during their degree programme itself.

Degree programmes

The report shows that degree programmes can contribute to equal opportunities by intensifying their contact with companies. In addition, sufficient contact with lecturers – a well-known precondition for student success – also influences prospects for internships and employment: the closer the contact, the sooner any problems are overcome. However, the emphasis that HBO degree programmes place on ‘the student's own responsibility’ can in practice result in a failure to identify problems that students experience with discrimination or finding internships. Paradoxically, this sometimes seems partly to be due to a desire on the part of teaching staff not to stigmatise students with a migrant background, and to avoid treating them differently from other students. Among staff in various degree programmes, the researchers observed a lack of expertise and agreement regarding discrimination.

Job applications

Many of the HBO students with a migrant background who were interviewed say they suspect that they have been subjected to discrimination, especially based on their experiences of not receiving a response to job applications. The employers interviewed are generally positive about the professional knowledge of HBO graduates, but say that people who make unsolicited job applications have little chance of being invited for an interview. To increase their chances, students with a migrant background often maximise the number of letters they send, including unsolicited applications. The researchers therefore advise degree programmes to stop encouraging students to apply in this way and to ensure they are better informed of their rights during the application process.

Employment opportunities

The network that HBO students establish during their degree programmes – through part-time jobs, internships, traineeships and online profiles – largely determines their future prospects of being noticed by employers. But HBO students and graduates with a migration background are more likely to have part-time or entry-level jobs in a sector unrelated to their studies. The researchers recommend that degree programmes should provide more information about the way part-time and entry-level jobs benefit future job prospects. By improving guidance for students in their contact with employers and by involving role models from diverse groups, the degree programmes can make a concrete contribution to equal employment opportunities. In this sense, the researchers are positive about the results of their study, although they also point out that the coronavirus outbreak is hampering students’ contact with teaching staff and making it harder to find internships.

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