Working Paper 75
Conceptualising the employability agency of international graduates
Published November 2021

The notion of agency has been widely used in varied disciplines, but is relatively new in the field of international graduates’ employability. This working paper critically discusses two “extreme” paradigms about agency in the context of international graduates’ employability. The first paradigm (object-centered theories, strong post-structural theories, and Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice) perceives individuals as agents with weak agency because their activities largely depend on medians and are subjugated by contextual structures like discourses, fields, and inequalities in capitals. By contrast, the second paradigm (social cognitivism and social science) strongly praises individuals’ agency like their agentic dispositions, agentic actions, capacities, and power. The paper then grounds these theoretical accounts by empirical findings to see how much they can inform international graduates’ employability. Finally, the paper suggests a conceptualisation of the employability agency of international graduates which is informed by the critical discussions of the selected theoretical accounts, grounded in empirical findings and the incorporation of other relevant theoretical perspectives. In essence, the conceptualisation positions international graduates’ employability agency as being both constrained and resourced by five components including contextual structures, subjectivities, host-country resources, ethnic capitals, and agentic dispositions and actions. These components are highly interdependent and constitute each other in complex ways. Consequently, initiatives aiming to enhance international graduates’ employability should consider all these components.

Read the full Working Paper here.