“The preconception about liberal arts has now at any rate been negated”

“The preconception about liberal arts has now at any rate been negated”

Research into the employability of UCM students

19-06-2023 · Research

MAASTRICHT. “An expensive creche for kids with rich parents,” is what former education minister Ronald Plasterk once called University College Utrecht in a column. A preconception about the liberal arts study, and there are more of those, certainly when it comes to the so-called employability. Are they ready for the labour market? And what do they have to offer? Research shows that they are more creative and enterprising than law students.

Milan Kovačević, PhD student at University College Maastricht (UCM), compared the employability (do they find a job quickly, are they easily deployable?) of more than 300 UCM students to 250 students of the same age at the English study programme of Law in Maastricht.
UCM has a strict selection procedure and an intensive, interdisciplinary and small-scale education system in which students can choose from more than 150 subjects. For this, they pay higher lecture fees. On the other hand, Law works with a “fixed curriculum” and the study programme is “more mono-disciplinary”, said Kovačević recently in an article in Teaching in Higher Education.

Newspaper and umbrella

First-, second- and third-year students participated in the online test that focussed on six employability skills: creativity, lifelong learning, career decidedness, resilience and personal initiative, and self-efficacy (the confidence, or better: the belief, that you can perform a task at a certain moment). Kovačević: “We selected these skills because they relate to a liberal arts programme, as appears from the literature.”
Kovačević’s research shows that UCM students score especially high for creativity and taking initiative.

Participants were given the assignment to think out of the box with the words ‘newspaper’ and ‘umbrella’. A newspaper can be read, folded into a hat, and what else? With another assignment, they were given a fictitious scenario: you are in a room with a printer on one side of you. Others come into the room to print, you are becoming a little over-stimulated by it all. What do you do? Use ear plugs, speak to people about it, move somewhere else? By the way, UCM students did not excel in all themes. Kovačević: “For self-efficacy and resilience, both groups scored approximately the same.”

Big fish

Were there any unexpected findings? “Law students score higher in the first year in almost all qualities,” says Kovačević. “This is most likely because of the big-fish-in-a-small-pond effect. It depends on who you compare yourself with. Those who do a study programme without a selection procedure, where the group is ‘average’, will estimate themselves to be ‘higher’ and have more self-confidence in first year than students in a selected group, as is the case at UCM.

In the second year, it was noticeable that liberal arts students scored better in almost all areas, after which in the third year, things ‘drop’ slightly again. Law students often show a slight dip in their last year too. Kovačević: “This is where the uncertainty of the future most likely plays a role. You have to start thinking about a master’s, complete your thesis, this is all tense.”

Biased view

Professor Teun Dekker, one of the supervisors and also an employee at UCM, starts talking about it himself of his own accord: the idea that we looked at it with a biased view, as the investigation was carried out by a UCM PhD student under the supervision of a UCM professor. “To prevent this, we took on (in addition to the great expertise in the field of the labour market) Rolf van der Velden from ROA, the Maastricht Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market, as a second supervisor,” Dekker explains. “Moreover, the ethical committee took a look at it, and yes, I am the chairman of that, but I left the hall as soon as the survey was about to be discussed. It was all carried out academically and independently and the data is accessible to everyone.”

No, Dekker would not like to conclude that UCM students are better than Law students. “We want to show that our students have certain employability qualities to offer. Plasterk’s preconception at any rate, has been negated.”

Author: Wendy Degens

Photo: Loraine Bodewes

Categories: news_top, Science
Tags: ucm,employability,creativity,initiative,instagram

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