Photograph: University of Exeter

A research project that aims to drive social mobility in the South West by helping graduates cultivate new employment opportunities has received nearly £225,000 in funding from UKRI.  

The project will build on research about “opportunity mindsets” by project lead Professor Paul O’Keefe.

Professor O’Keefe argues that those with a growth mindset of opportunity view their goals as more achievable because they believe that new, relevant opportunities can be found or created.

In contrast, people with a fixed mindset believe their opportunities in life are limited and relatively unchangeable. Therefore, they view goals as achievable only when relevant opportunities are readily available.  

For the project ‘Creating Better Opportunities in the South West Through a Growth-Mindset-of-Opportunity Intervention’, Professor O’Keefe, Professor Oliver Hauser and Dr. E. J. Horberg from from the University of Exeter Business School will design a randomised controlled field experiment to help graduates develop a growth mindset of opportunity as they transition to the workforce.  

They will target 600 final year undergraduates who are seeking employment in the South West region after graduation.  

The South West is significant because the region has fewer highly paid professional opportunities than elsewhere in the country, and graduates who choose to stay in the region are more likely to be from lower socio-economic backgrounds.  

The researchers will deploy an online program to teach graduating students a growth mindset of opportunity, which will include several reading and reflective writing exercises designed to communicate that opportunities are not fixed but can instead be cultivated.  

The graduates will then be tracked for approximately one year as they seek employment and pursue longer term employment goals.  

The field experiment is expected to narrow the economic gap between graduates from higher and lower socio-economic backgrounds.  

The researchers predict that the benefits of the programme should be particularly beneficial for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds because graduates with greater financial and social resources typically already have access to good opportunities and will therefore have less need to cultivate new ones.  

Project lead Professor Paul O’Keefe, an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the University of Exeter Business School and Director of the Mindsets and Motivation Lab, said: “Our vision is to design and deliver a growth-mindset-of-opportunity intervention that empowers people to create, uncover, and cultivate new opportunities, leading to high-quality employment and setting a trajectory for continued success.” 

Professor Hauser, Professor of Economics and Deputy Director at the Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, added: “Addressing this issue is critical for reducing economic disparities, while sustaining economic growth and innovation, particularly in places with fewer pre-existing opportunities for upward job mobility like the South West.”