18 January 2019 • HOP, by Bas Belleman
Diploma from a university of applied sciences offers no protection against job-market discrimination
Women and the children of migrants who earn a diploma from a university of applied sciences are still encountering difficulties as they enter the job market. Remarkably enough, however, the same is not true for those with poorly educated parents. These are the findings of a new analysis of the HBO Monitor conducted by the Maastricht-based research agency ROA. The makers have now examined how various groups of university of applied sciences alumni fare in the job market in the years after graduation.
It’s true that children of parents with a low level of schooling tend to have more difficulty with their own education: they receive lower study-level recommendations and have a higher drop-out rate. When they do complete a university of applied sciences degree, however, they perform just as well as their HBO peers who — thanks to their highly educated parents — found smoother sailing as they progressed through the education system. As ROA notes, at that point they appear to have “effectively cast off any disadvantage with regard to the job market”.
For the makers, this was an unexpected conclusion, as a number of other studies have indicated quite the opposite. “Perhaps those studies did not take educational level into account,” researcher Barbara Belfi says. ROA was equally unable to examine all factors. It is possible, for example, that many of these (former) university of applied sciences students will have completed pre-university education, yet were reluctant to enrol in a research university due to their socio-economic background. In that case, they will have been disadvantaged in a way that is not visible in the study at hand.
The situation is different for female alumni. “The career progression among women, on the other hand, is quite different than that of men, both in the short and medium term,” the researchers observed. They are more frequently unemployed than their male counterparts and earn less. When women enter the job market, their hourly wages are (on average) 5% lower than men’s, a pay gap that increases to 12% after several years. ROA calls this finding “alarming” — especially when one considers that men tend to work more hours as well.
Could this discrepancy be explained by the fact that women bear children and then devote a great amount of time to caring for those children? No; ROA found no evidence to support this conclusion. “Somewhat contrary to expectations, the decision to start a family and care tasks appeared to play only a marginal role in the poorer job-market position of women, in both the short and medium term.” Despite the fact that the women studied did spend more time on care tasks than the men, the figures from ROA revealed that this had little effect on the women’s career development.
The researchers speculate about differences between men and women with regard to negotiation skills and powers of persuasion. A portion of the pay gap can be explained by choices for certain study programmes or to work part-time. Yet at the same time, it is “impossible to rule out” discrimination by employers.
There is a “substantial unexplained effect” among university of applied sciences students with a non-Western immigrant background as well. In other words, looking at the study choices and job preferences of this group of university of applied sciences alumni does not fully explain their disadvantage in the job market: in the medium term, only 90.7 per cent of these graduates is employed, compared to 97.5 of alumni with a Dutch background.
Still, ROA suspects that there is much to be gained by ensuring that student advisers in secondary education provide adequate information about the employment opportunities offered by specific degree programmes — particularly to pupils with immigrant backgrounds.