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Degree power: educational credentialism within three skilled occupations

Tholen, G. ORCID: 0000-0001-6439-5046 (2019). Degree power: educational credentialism within three skilled occupations. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 41(3), pp. 283-298. doi: 10.1080/01425692.2019.1690427


An ongoing debate is centred around the question of how we can understand the value of university credentials in accessing jobs. We know that occupations are strong determinants of which skills, knowledge and abilities are utilised in work but we do not know enough of how occupational contexts shape what university degrees represent to employers and labour market entrants. Drawing on semi-structured interview data, this article compares and contrasts how Higher Education degrees serve as credentials in accessing three different graduate occupations: laboratory scientists, software engineers and press officers. Rather than functioning as direct signs of work skills and knowledge, signals of trainability or as instruments of social closure, the article shows that higher education credentials serve multiple roles within the three occupations. These occupational-specific forms of credentialism shape the competition for jobs for university graduates. The article argues for a renewed theoretical approach to educational credentialism.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in British Journal of Sociology of Education on 15 Nov 2019, available online:
Publisher Keywords: Credentialism, Higher Education, graduate labour market, occupations
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
SWORD Depositor:
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