With ever-increasing mobility in the international labour market, employers, and in particular, their corporate recruiters, face a challenging recruitment maze.
An in-tray of CVs might include applications from the Czech Republic to Japan, all applying for the same role. Applications are often also completed online, with candidates entering an array of national educational qualifications.
How can UK employers draw meaningful comparisons between such candidates, when our understanding of the range of qualifications is incomplete? How can they identify the reputation of an educational institution abroad or understand how it may compare with similar institutions in the home market?
In response to our work with UK graduate recruiters from leading international companies, we commissioned an ESCP-EAP Student Consultancy team to facilitate our understanding of the plethora of international qualifications. With campuses in London, Paris, Turin, Madrid and Berlin, ESCP-EAP is ideally placed to research this topic.
The survey covered higher educational institutions in 33 different countries: the 25 member states of the European Union, as well as Australia and the US. It looked at the higher education systems in each country, and covered the examination and marking schemes from secondary school through to university. It also asked questions about the degree structures at university level, and aimed to identify world-class universities in each country.
Our survey coincided with a key phase in the process of the planned harmonisation of European higher education qualifications – the so-called ‘Bologna Accord’. This agreement is designed to establish a European Higher Education area by 2010 among the EU member states. The process lays down a single system of degrees, which would be comparable through an agreed framework and credit mechanism.
The aim is to establish a system based on two main cycles: the first cycle of three years (undergraduate), and the second cycle of two years (graduate or Masters). The degree awarded after the first cycle is to be relevant to the European labour market, as an appropriate level of qualification. A rigorous quality assurance process and governing bodies to ensure standards and accountability will operate across Bologna nations.
But it also poses a number of challenges – it is not easy to predict how the behaviour of students, employers and institutions in Europe will change in the next 10 years. For example:
- Students will have more options in a wider and more internationally accessible higher education environment. After completing a Bachelor degree, graduates can either continue to a Masters degree, or seek employment. Their decisions to undertake a Masters degree will also be influenced by employers if they begin to look at Masters degrees as the differentiating factor.
- Shorter study programmes may also result in graduates entering the workforce at a younger age
- For institutions, the Bologna Accord opens the gateway for the introduction of vast numbers of new Masters programmes.
- In the field of graduate management development alone, the Graduate Management Admissions Council believes that 12,000 additional Masters programmes will be created.
- Institutions will have to be more specific about the types of programmes they offer, and there should be a clear distinction between the MBA and other Masters degrees.
- The onus will be on institutions to create effective admissions procedures and select the right students. One effect could be that by consenting to shorter Masters degrees, European higher education will attract more non-European students.
- Employers will play a key role in the success or failure of Bologna reforms. If they do not actively recruit Bachelor degree graduates, this degree will cease to be of marketable value.
The Bologna agreement will help employers to understand international qualifications and their impact on recruitment. It will create a much-enlarged applicant pool, whose qualifications and skills, while gained in a variety of countries, will be more readily comparable.