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Extra-curricular Activities and Skill Acquisition

  • Location: the accredited SeNSS DTP
  • Duration: three years, beginning in October 2020 and completing in 2023
  • Supervisor: Professor Emilia Del Bono
  • Deadlines:
    20 January: date to apply to ISER
    17 February: date to apply for studentship, please submit this application to the supervisor(s) directly
    16 March: final decisions communicated

Whether a university degree provides the skills required by a rapidly changing labour market is a very open question. Technological advances are generating sweeping changes to traditional job tasks, with evidence of an increasing demand, and increasing return, for non-cognitive and especially social skills (Deming 2017, Edin et al. 2017). Employers invest more resources tailoring their recruitment processes to candidates with a wider range of skills than in the past (AGR 2016, Bakhshi et al. 2017). Even so, and despite an increasing supply of graduates, the proportion of UK businesses indicating a shortage of valued skills – such as negotiating and influencing; and commercial awareness - has reached an all-time high (69%; CBI/Pearson 2016). These concerns are not new, and for the past few years an important theme in the UK Higher Education sector has been the development of strategies to improve the ‘employability’ of graduates. This is perhaps best represented by efforts to encourage and recognize participation in extra-curricular activities, such as volunteering or engagement in competitive sports. The rationale is that these activities may not only enhance students’ experience while at university but also empower them with a set of skills that employers increasingly value in the labour market.

Yet, there is little evidence on what students think about the value of these activities in terms of employability and earnings, and whether there are large trade-offs with respect to academic inputs, such as participation in classes and lectures. Moreover, we do not know what types of students are more likely to take part in extra-curricular activities while at university. It might be that participation varies by family background, through access to social networks for example, thus contributing to the transmission of socio-economic inequalities. Alternatively, it could be that information problems are a factor and students have different levels of awareness about employers’ demand for different types of skills. There is also of course the question of whether these activities are correlated – or indeed causally related - to acquiring new skills or experience better labour market outcomes.

This PhD will address some of the above mentioned research questions.

Use of the data from the BOOST2018 study will be encouraged. BOOST2018 is a longitudinal study that follows a cohort of approximately 2,000 UK undergraduate students from their first term at university through to the completion of their degree in July 2018. The survey collected information on several aspects of student participation to university life, from lecture attendance to hours spent studying, working for pay and on a range of extra-curricular activities. During the third year, a specially designed module of the survey asked students to report their chance of employment, expected earnings, and career prospects conditional on hypothetical scenarios involving different combinations of academic and extra-curricular activities. Then, using a list of nine skills that employers consider relevant in making hiring decisions (benchmarked on a recent survey administered to UK graduate employers, AGR 2016), students were asked to rate themselves, rate their peers, and predict the proportion of employers tailoring their hiring strategies to those skills. The dataset also collected information on a range of individual cognitive and non-cognitive skills, subjective expectations about university outcomes, and beliefs about ability, so that the research questions can be expanded in different directions.

The student will also be encouraged to explore opportunities offered by other UK datasets, such as the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education, which contains information on internships and job placements. The work could then be extended to consider data from other countries which could offer evidence useful for an international comparison.

References

AGR - Association of Graduate Recruiters (2016), “The AGR 2016 Annual Survey“.

Bakhshi, H., Downing, J., Osborne, M. and P. Schneider (2017), The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030. London: Pearson and Nesta. CBI/Pearson (2016), “The Right Combination”, Education and Skills Survey, July 2016.

Deming, D. (2017), “The growing importance of social skills in the labor market” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 132 (4), 1593-1640.

Edin, P. et al. (2017), “The Rising Return to Non-Cognitive Skill,” IZA DP 10914.


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Taught and research degrees

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Funding

Fully-funded studentships through our Doctoral Training Centre

How to apply

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Degrees

Taught and research degrees

Why ISER

Supervision and teaching from leading academics

Funding

Fully-funded studentships through our Doctoral Training Centre

How to apply

A step by step guide