Social origin, subject area studies and access of Greek university graduates to the labour market.

Issue 11-12

“Social origin, subject area studies and access of Greek university graduates to the labour market.”

Maria Karamesini
Page 107-128


From 1993 until 2004, the last wave of expansion of higher education in Greece has brought the country at the top of OECD and EU countries as regards the enrolment rate of the 20-year-olds, today equal to 74%. The opening up of higher education in Greece in recent years has though not erased inequalities of access altogether. Access has become more universal but there is fierce competition for entry in universities vs. technological education institutes and in subject areas giving access to high-status occupations and relatively good jobs in times of high unemployment among tertiary education graduates. As a result, the social origin of students differs according to the academic or vocational stream of tertiary education and the subject area of studies.
Subject areas of studies are crucial for both the length of the transition period from higher education to stable employment and the quality of jobs to which graduates have access during this period and settle once they have found stable and, more or less, satisfactory employment. Subject areas are associated with contrasting labour market outcomes of their graduates because of two reasons. First, the number of entrants in higher education each year, the length of studies and their links with the labour market differ by subject area. Second, each subject area prepares its students preferably for certain occupations, in demand mainly by certain sectors of economic activity. The firms of these sectors determine labour demand i.e. the quantity and quality of new jobs and the career prospects of the graduates in the subject area.
In this paper we examine the extent to which the social origin of students has an indirect effect on the speed and quality of their labour market integration by entailing inequality of access to the different subject areas. To do so we use micro-data coming from a nation-wide survey on the transition from higher education to work, realized in 2005 on a sample of 13,615 graduates from all Greek universities and belonging to the 1998-2000 cohorts. We first proceed to cluster analysis of subject areas according to the unemployment rate of graduates and quality features of the jobs they hold 5-7 years after graduation. We then use cluster analysis to group subject areas according to the education level and family income of the parents of their graduates. Finally we compare the two groupings, consider the degree of their overlapping and draw conclusions on the extent to which inequalities of access to subject areas due to social origin are associated with unequal opportunities of graduates to find good jobs.
From the empirical analysis it has been found that inequality of access to the different fields of study according to the family background explain to a great extent but not fully the unequal opportunities of university graduates to find good jobs and get integrated into the Greek labour market in a satisfactory way. As expected, other factors mentioned in literature, such sex, talent, preference etc. may also explain choice/ access of subject area of studies. Another finding of our analysis that is worth mentioning is that the higher educational attainment of the father has apparently a stronger positive association with the successful transition of graduates from university to work than parental income.