Constructing employability with a liberal arts major: a comparative case study of two universities in Mainland China and Hong Kong

He, Shan (2021) Constructing employability with a liberal arts major: a comparative case study of two universities in Mainland China and Hong Kong. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This research investigates how individuals with a liberal arts major prepare for, decide and plan their employment. Though STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) degrees continue to be prevailing educational choices among parents and students, liberal arts education has become a newly re-emerging educational philosophy especially in East Asia. The visions, practices and implications of a liberal arts education have been widely discussed among policy makers and educators. However, student-level data on individuals’ perspectives and employability construction are largely absent in the current literature. This research addresses this gap by focusing on two in-depth case studies of those who achieve a first degree in a liberal arts discipline, and draws a comparison between two universities, one in each of Mainland China and Hong Kong.

This research uncovers individuals’ education experiences, career choices and expectations with a liberal arts major. A qualitative research paradigm is adopted using semi-structured interviews with senior students, fresh graduates and faculty members from the two selected universities, plus feedback gained from career counsellors and employers. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory and Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice are used complementarily to analyze and understand individuals’ responses.

Four main aspects of how individuals manage their employability are identified: 1. Individuals’ rationales for studying a liberal arts major can be structured by various factors; 2. By engaging with liberal arts, individuals have strengthened their soft skills and managed to achieve employability ‘capitals’ demanded by the labour market, while also experiencing personal growth during their university life; 3. Beside practical and personal employment concerns, both groups of individuals exhibited their aspirations for making social contributions; 4. The local socio-economic context and individuals’ socio-economic statuses make a significant impact on individuals’ short-term and longer-term career plans. The author concludes that on the one hand, employability is an on-going task; lifelong learning and self-improvement are necessary regardless of one’s academic background and employment situation. On the other hand, soft skills and other personal qualities can be potentially more important to individuals’ further development in employment and wider social engagement. This, in turn, demonstrates the importance of ‘well-roundedness’ and ‘whole-person cultivation’ promoted by the liberal arts education philosophy. Lastly, implications and recommendations are provided for practice and future research.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Lowe, John
Speight, Sarah
Keywords: Liberal arts; employability; school-to-work transition
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
Faculties/Schools: UNNC Ningbo, China Campus > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Education
Item ID: 64016
Depositing User: HE, Shan
Date Deposited: 10 Dec 2020 02:19
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2021 00:41

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