Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

Employability is the acquisition of attributes (knowledge, skills, and abilities) that make graduates more likely to be successful in their chosen occupations (whether paid employment or not).

explanatory context

Employability usually refers to the employment of graduates but this includes self-employment. A broader definition includes any lifestyle choice, or refers to employability as the development of abilities to ensure graduates are critical life-long learners.

There is a narrow alternative approach, once popular, especially with policy makers but now less used, which was to define employability as the proportion of graduates, from an institution that were employed within a specified period after graduation.
Harvey (2003) notes:

Employability is not just about getting a job. Conversely, just because a student is on a vocational course does not mean that somehow employability is automatic. Employability is more than about developing attributes, techniques or experience just to enable a student to get a job, or to progress within a current career. It is about learning and the emphasis is less on ‘employ’ and more on ‘ability’. In essence, the emphasis is on developing critical, reflective abilities, with a view to empowering and enhancing the learner.

analytical review

The definition adopted by the UK’s Enhancing Student Employability Co-ordination Team (ESECT, 2005) and widely adopted in the UK is:

a set of achievements, skills, understandings and personal attributes that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupation.

This is the definition used (unattributed) by the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) (undated).  

A variant of this
that is claimed to underpin the work of the Higher Education Academy was a later expansion of the ESCET definition:

A set of skills, knowledge and personal attributes that make an individual more likely to secure and be successful in their chosen occupation(s) to the benefit of themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy. (University of Leeds, undated)

The LTSN Generic Centre Circular 5 (2003, p. 1) stated under the heading 'What is enmployability':

Graduate employability is more than being able to find a job immediately after graduation. Rather it is the individual's ability to make an effective ongoing contribution to society, and lead a satisfying life thereafter. It includes qualities like resilience and resourcefulness, as well as technical knowledge and the ability to continue to learn in a changing environment. Such qualities are developed through the whole range of experiences which higher education offers.

Harvey and Locke (2002), state:

Employability of a graduate is the propensity of the graduate to exhibit attributes that employers anticipate will be necessary for the future effective functioning of their organisation.


Earlier Hillage and Pollard (1998) had defined it as:

Employability is the ability to gain and retain fulfilling work.


Brown and colleagues (Brown et al. 2002, p. 9) objected to the Hillage and Pollard definition and offered a different definition of employability:

The relative chances of finding and maintaining different kinds of employment.

The official Bologna Process website July 2007–June 2010 stated:

There are many definitions of employability. For the purpose of the Bologna Follow-up Group, employability is defined as the ability to gain initial employment, to maintain employment, and to be able to move around within the labour market.


Many of the variants on defining employability are about the propensity of graduates to secure a job and progress in their career. For example, the University of Newcastle (Allison et al., 2002) defines employability as the:

capacity to move self-sufficiently into and within the labour market, to fulfil potential through sustainable employment.


AEC (2004) define employability as:

The relevance of knowledge, skills and competences acquired through training to what the labour market/profession requires.


The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE, undated) has a similar limited view of employability as effectively matching employers' criteria.

Employability: The extent to which you are suited to employment, via skills, qualities and knowledge.

In the version accessed 31 December 2016, this definition deleted and replaced by:

Employability skills: The transferable core skills that represent functional and enabling knowledge, skills, and attitudes required in today's workplace. They are necessary for career success at all levels of employment and for all levels of education.

The Bolton Careers Service Employability Guide (undated, p. 4) emphasises job getting, thus it states that employability:

refers to your capability of obtaining employment, staying employment and then...seeking new opportunities as you work through your working life



The NHS Scotland on their website Healthy Working Lives (2008) state:

The definition adopted by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives is: "The combination of factors and processes which enable people to progress towards or get into employment, to stay in employment, and to move on in the workplace."

Similarly the Northern Ireland Department for Employment and Learning (undated) is reported on the BBC Northern Ireland Learning website as defining employability thus:

Employability is the capability to move into and within labour markets and to realise potential through sustainable and accessible employment.

For the individual, employability depends on: the knowledge and skills they possess, and their attitudes; the way personal attributes are presented in the labour market; the environmental and social context within which work is sought; and the economic context within which work is sought.

In discussing employability as an aspect of quality in higher education Storen (2008) states:

Yorke views employability as ?ea (multi-faceted) characteristic of the individual?f (Yorke, 2006, p. 10). Harvey (1999) defines the propensity of the graduates that constitute employability in more general terms, as ?eattributes that employers anticipate will be necessary for the future effective functioning of their organisation?f. A further enhancement of the concept may be that employability is being ?esuccessful in their chosen occupations?f (Yorke 2006) and ?eeffective functioning?f (Harvey 2001). Aamodt and Havnes (2008) use the concept ?ejob mastery?f and try to see how job mastery is related to qualities of the study programme, on-the-job-training and working environment. In this paper, ?eemployability?f is viewed as the benefit and usefulness of the study programme for career and work tasks

Wang Xia and Cui Ying Fen (undated) suggest the following about the translation of employability into Chinese:

associated issues

The ESECT site with excellent resources has been revived and updated and is available at

related areas

See also

Bologna Process

career guidance


continuing education

cooperative education

continuing professional development

foundation degree

informal learning

lifelong learning



work-based learning

work experience

work-related learning


Aamodt, P.O. and Havnes, A., 2008, ‘Factors affecting professional job mastery: quality of study or work experience?’, Quality in Higher Education, 14(3) pp. 233–48.

Allison, J., Harvey, C. & Nixon, I., 2002, Enhancing Employability: A long term strategic challenge. University of Newcastle. Available on the LTSN Generic Centre website as EMP002,, not available at this address 4 March 2011.

Association europeenne des conservatoires [Academies de musique et musikhochschulen] (AEC), 2004, Glossary of terms used in relation to the Bologna Declaration, accessed September 2004. Not available at this address 31 January 2011.

Brown, P., Hesketh, A. and Williams, S., 2002, Employability in a knowledge-driven economy. In Knight, P. (compiler) Notes from the 13th June 2002 ‘Skills plus’ conference, Innovation in education for employability held at Manchester Metropolitan University, 5-25. Available via, accessed 3 June 2003, not available at this address 4 March 2011.

Enhancing Student Employability Co-ordination Team (ESECT), 2005, Home,, not available at this address 4 March 2011.

Harvey, L., 1999, Employability Audit Toolkit, Birmingham, University of Central England, Centre for Research into Quality.

Harvey, L., 2001, 'Defining and measuring employability' Quality in Higher Education, 7(2), pp. 97–109, available here.

Harvey, L. 2003, Transitions from Higher Education to Work. A briefing paper prepared by Lee Harvey (Centre for Research and Evaluation, Sheffield Hallam University), with advice from ESECT and LTSN Generic Centre colleagues, available at accessed 4 March 2011. No longer available, 13 July 2012, as the Palatine subject centre has been closed. However, it is available at The excellent Palatine resources for employability have been saved on the revived and updated ESECT site at:, accessed 3 January 2017.

Harvey, L. and Locke, W. with  Morey, A., 2002, Enhancing employability, recognising diversity. London, Universities UK and CSU, available at , accessed 13 July 2012, page not available 3 January 2017, document available here.

Healthy Working Lives, 2008, What is Employability? NHS Scotland, available at, last reviewed 20 June 2008, accessed 21 September 2012, later reviewed 8 December 2012, accessed 3 January 2017 (definition unchanged), not available 26 June 2019.

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), undated, Glossary, available at, accessed 10 October 2012, definition changed in the undated version accessed 31 December 2016, not available 20 June 2019.

Hillage, J. and Pollard, E., 1998, Employability: Developing a framework for policy analysis,  Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) Research report. no RR85 (London, DfEE).

Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) Generic Centre, 2003, Circular 5 'Graduate Employability', York, LTSN

Northern Ireland Department for Employment and Learning (undated), 'Definition of Employability' quoted on the BBC 'Go Get It' website, available at, accessed 21 September 2012, still available 26 June 2019.

Official Bologna Process website July 2007–June 2010, Employability, available at, accessed 5 October 2012, page not available 3 December 2017.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), undated, Glossary, available at, accessed 7 January 2017, not available 20 June 2019.

Storen, L.A. and Aamodt, P.O, 2010, 'The quality of higher education and employability of graduates', Quality in Higher Education, 16(3), pp. 297–313.

University of Bolton, Careers Service, undated, The Employability Guide: Helping your graduates with far more than a degree! Bolton, University of Bolton.

University of Leeds, undated, Employability Skills: What are we talking about here?, accessed 13 July 2012, still available 26 June 2019.

Wang Xia and Cui Ying Fen, undated, Embedding Student Employability into the Curriculum: Experiences from the University of York, Summary – [original Chinese article was available at but not at this address 13 July 2012], Department of Education Science and Administration Nanjing University, available at, accessed 21 September 2012, page not available 3 December 2017.

Yorke, M., 2006, Employability in higher education: what it is, what it is not, ESECT, Learning and Employability. Series one. York: The Higher Education Academy.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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