Higher Education

, Volume 64, Issue 6, pp 861–874 | Cite as

Graduateness: an empirical examination of the formative function of university education

  • J. M. Steur
  • E. P. W. A. Jansen
  • W. H. A. Hofman


The formative merits of university education are at risk of being reduced from graduateness in the sense of broad academic cultivation to professional training with a strong emphasis on employability. The difficulty in opposing this trend is the absence of a clear framework for academic cultivation. The aim of this study is to construct a model that uses the formative function of university education as a starting point, that distinguishes graduateness from employability, and that integrates theories on reflective thinking, scholarship, moral reasoning and lifelong learning. This approach offers the possibility of making use of insights from established theoretical traditions in the study of the intellectual development of students. For this study, a questionnaire was developed to investigate graduateness, or intellectual cultivation, among students in a research university. Structural equation modelling revealed that the expected structure was confirmed by the data. Reflective thinking has the strongest influence on lifelong learning; however, scholarship and moral citizenship are also important elements.


Graduateness Generic competences Intellectual development Reflective thinking University students 


  1. Ahier, J., Beck, J., & Moore, R. (2003). Graduate citizens? Issues of citizenship and higher education. New York: Routledge Falmer.Google Scholar
  2. Barnett, R. (2003). Beyond all reason: living with ideology in university. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Barrie, S. C. (2006). Understanding what we mean by the generic attributes of graduates. Higher Education, 51, 215–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bennett, N., Dunne, E., & Carré, C. (1999). Patterns of core and generic skills provision in higher education. Higher Education, 37, 71–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bieschke, K. J. (1993). Research self-efficacy beliefs and research outcome expectations: Implications for developing scientifically minded psychologists. Journal of Career Development, 14, 77–91.Google Scholar
  6. Biggs, J. (1999). What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 18(1), 57–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Booth, A., McLean, M., & Walker, M. (2009). Self, others and society: A case study of university integrative learning. Studies in Higher Education, 34(8), 929–939.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: priorities of the professiorate. New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Byrne, M. S., & Johnstone, A. H. (1987). Critical thinking and science education. Studies in Higher Education, 12(3), 325–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clancy, J., & Ballard, B. (1995). Generic skills in the context of higher education. Higher Education Research and Development, 14(2), 155–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Commission of the European Communities. (2002). European report on quality indicators of lifelong learning Brussels: CEC.Google Scholar
  12. Dearing, R. (1997). Higher education in the learning society. Leeds, UK: Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education.Google Scholar
  13. Glover, A., Law, S., & Young, A. (2002). Graduateness and employability: Student perceptions of the personal outcomes of university education. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 7, 293–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hayduk, L. A. (1996). Lisrel: Issues, debates and strategies. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Humboldt, W. von. (1809-10). University reform in Germany. Trans. Kloss. 1968. Minerva, 8, 242–267.Google Scholar
  16. Jansen, P. J. (2009). Studenten leren niet, zij studeren: Over transformaties als psychologische kern van hoger onderwijs [Students do not learn, they study: About transformations as psychological heart of higher education]. Antwerpen: Garant.Google Scholar
  17. Jones, A. (2009). Rediscplining generic graduate attributes: The disciplinary context in focus. Studies in Higher Education, 34(1), 85–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jörgeskog, K. G., & Sörbom, D. (1985). Lisrel VI: Analysis of linear structural relationships by the method of maximum likelihood – User’s guide. Uppsala: University of Uppsala.Google Scholar
  19. Kearns, P. (2001). Generic Skills for the New Economy. Review of Research. NCVER: Adelaide.Google Scholar
  20. Kember, D., Leung, D., Jones, A., Loke, A., McKay, J., Sinclair, K., et al. (2000). Development of a questionnaire to measure the level of reflective thinking. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 25, 381–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (2004). Reflective judgment: Theory and research on the development of epistemic assumptions through adulthood. Educational Psychologist, 39, 5–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kitchener, K. S., & King, P. M. (1981). Reflective judgment: Concepts of justification and their relationship to age and education. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 2(2), 89–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kline, R. B. (1998). Principles and practices of structural equation modeling. New York: Guilfort.Google Scholar
  24. Kohlberg, L. (1973). The claim to moral adequacy of a highest stage of moral judgment. Journal of Philosophy, 70, 630–646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  26. Mezirow, J. (2003). Transformative learning as discourse. Journal of Transformative Education, 1, 58–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ministery of Education, Culture and Science. (1992). Dutch higher education and scientific research act. The Hague: Ministery of Education, Culture and Science.Google Scholar
  28. Mulcahy, D. G. (2009). What should it mean to have a liberal education in the 21st century? Curriculum Inquiry, 39(3), 465–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nussbaum, M. C. (1997). Cultivating humanity: a classical defense of reform in liberal education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Oost, H., Holleman, W., Van den Berg, I., Thoolen, B., & Milius, J. (1998). Naar een interpretatie van "academische vorming" [To an interpretation of "graduateness"] IVLOS Mededelingen, 60.Google Scholar
  31. Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  32. Perry, W. G. (1970). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years: A scheme. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  33. Pintrich, P. R. (2000). The role of goal orientation in self-regulated learning. In: M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, M. Zeidner (Eds.). Handbook of self-regulation, pp 451–502. London: Elsevier Academic Press.Google Scholar
  34. Pintrich, P. R., Smith, D. A. F., Garcia, T., & McKeachie, W. J. (1991). A manual for use of the motivated strategies for learning questionnaire (MSLQ).. Ann Harbor, MI: National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning.Google Scholar
  35. Schermelleh-Engel, K., Moosbrugger, H., & Müller, H. (2003). Evaluating the fit of structural equation models: Tests of significance and descriptive goodness-of-fit measurements. Methods of Psychological Research Online, 8(2), 23–74.Google Scholar
  36. Schneider, C. G. (2004). Practicing liberal education: Formative themes in the reinvention of liberal learning. Liberal Education, 90, 6–11.Google Scholar
  37. Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  38. Shelton, C. M., & McAdams, D. P. (1990). In search of an everyday morality: The development of a measure. Adolescence, 25, 923–943.Google Scholar
  39. Steur, J. M., Jansen, E. P. W. A., & Hofman, W. H. A. (2011). Exploration of instruments measuring concepts of graduateness in a research university context. Educational Research Quarterly, 34(4), 45–68. Google Scholar
  40. Stevenson, J. (2003). The implications of learning theory for the idea of general knowledge. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 55(2), 241–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. UNESCO. (1998). World declaration on higher education for the twenty-first century: vision and action.
  42. Van Rossum, E. J., & Hamer, R. (2010). The meaning of learning and knowledge. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  43. Wheelahan, L. (2003). Recognition of prior learning and the problem of ‘graduateness’. Paper presented at the sixth Australian VET Research Association Conference, Sydney, Australia, 9–11 April 2003.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. M. Steur
    • 1
  • E. P. W. A. Jansen
    • 1
  • W. H. A. Hofman
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations