In the UK, the vast majority of university students specialise and study just one subject at bachelor degree level, commonly known in the UK as a single honours degree. However, nearly all British universities will permit students if they wish to study two or even three subjects, so-called joint or combined honours degrees, internationally known as a double major. The purpose of this paper is to explore whether the study of a joint rather than a single honours degree had an impact on employment outcomes six months after graduation.
The authors analysed the complete data set provided from the Higher Education Statistics Agency Destination of Leavers from the Higher Education survey. The data were analysed to establish whether there was a difference in the highly skilled graduate employability of the joint honours students. The authors established whether there were any differences inherent in completing a joint honours degree in a post-1992 higher education institution, by nation within the UK or within a Russell Group higher education institution.
The authors found an approximately consistent 3 per cent point negative gap nationally in the highly skilled employment rates of joint compared with single honours graduates. This gap was at its lowest in the highly selective Russell Group universities (−1.52 per cent points) and highest in post-1992, vocationally oriented universities (−7.13 per cent points) and in Northern Ireland universities (−12.45 per cent points). Joint honours graduates of Scottish universities fared well, with a +3.09 per cent point advantage over the national average for joint honours. The authors found that universities that had a higher proportion of joint honours graduates generally had a lower employability gap between their joint and single honours graduates.
This study focussed on joint honours degrees in the UK where the two or three principal subjects fall into different JACS subject areas, i.e. the two or three subjects are necessarily diverse rather than academically cognate. Future work will consider the class of joint honours degrees where the principal subjects lie within the same JACS subject area, i.e. they may be closer academically, although still taught by different academic teams. This grouping will include, for example, pairs of foreign languages, some social sciences pairings such as politics and sociology, and pairings such as history and theology from the historical and philosophical subject area.
The potential disbenefits of studying for a joint honours degree are apparent in this study. Joint honours students may face organisational, academic and cultural challenges that require a positive, conscious and sustained effort to overcome, on both the part of the student and the higher education institution. In particular for graduates of the post-1992 universities, it appears that there is a negative relative impact on highly skilled employment. This impact is lessened if the university is Scottish (four-year degrees with in-built breadth of study) or where the proportion completing joint honours degrees is relatively high.
Pigden, L. and Moore, A.G. (2018), "Employability outcomes for university joint honours graduates", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 195-210. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-11-2017-0088
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