Struggles for the soul of higher education

: a genealogy of graduate employability

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Graduate employability is a central part of the contemporary debate over the purpose and value of higher education. This thesis undertakes a Foucauldian genealogy to interrogate the discursive formation of graduate employability in higher education in the United Kingdom. To the author’s knowledge this is the first attempt to do so.

The thesis constructs a genealogy in two ways. Firstly, it identifies in the contemporary literature five distinct discourses of graduate employability. This establishes the discursive character of graduate employability. Secondly, it interrogates five higher education policy documents published since the Second World War to propose how different discourses might emerge through distinctive historical conditions. Each represents a critical moment of emergence of a distinctive configuration of graduate employability.

Thus, the illusion of graduate employability as a singular, neutral concept is dissolved. It is shown to be contingent upon the social, economic and political conditions of the times. Graduate employability is thus a product of power relations and not merely a technical concept. In unmasking graduate employability as contingent it reveals forgotten attempts to mould and shape higher education through policy. Graduate employability thus becomes part of the apparatus of the disciplining of higher education.

Furthermore, the research points to the futility of addressing graduate employability as something externally imposed upon the ‘true’ mission of higher education. Instead, higher education is inescapably bound up in this repeated contest for its own soul and is thus empowered to creatively resist. It therefore affirms the agency of higher education in shaping the very idea of graduate employability.

The major contributions to knowledge are, therefore: the demonstration of graduate employability as discursive; the reconstruction of those historical conditions that have enabled the emergence of different discourses; and the application of Foucault’s genealogical toolkit to a novel aspect of higher education policy.
Date of Award2 Apr 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorWayne Veck (Supervisor), Shaun Best (Supervisor) & Janice De Sousa (Supervisor)


  • graduate employability
  • higher education
  • Foucault
  • genealogy
  • policy
  • United Kingdom

Cite this

Struggles for the soul of higher education: a genealogy of graduate employability
Hall, M. (Author). 2 Apr 2019

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis