How are our graduates faring?

Blog posts

26 Jun 2015

Emma PollardEmma Pollard

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data on what students do after they graduate were released last week. This forms part of the annual data release that provides valuable information on the short-term destinations of graduates. These feed into the Unistats Key Information Set (or KIS) which provides vital information on the employability of graduates from specific undergraduate courses and institutions to support the decision-making of prospective students. They also feed into the higher education (HE) sector’s Performance Indicators, which allow all UK HE institutions to benchmark their performance against each other. The data enable research institutes like IES to track the outcomes of graduates over time, for example to see how successful graduates are in a changing labour market. Graduate employability continues to be a policy focus for HE across the UK nations and for individual HE institutions, and the potential return on the investment in fees has become even more critical for students and graduates.

At IES, we had anticipated the new survey would show a continued improvement in graduate employment rates, reflecting the improving economy and more positive outlook of graduate recruiters. Indeed, in January the Association of Graduate Recruiters membership survey predicted graduate vacancies to rise by more than ten per cent in the coming year; and the High Fliers survey of top employers similarly predicted an increase in graduate entry-level vacancies beyond the pre-recession peak in 2007. Correspondingly, analysis by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills found that the employment rate among all graduates (regardless of age and when they left university) had returned to pre-recession levels.

The new data show there were 519,000 people of UK domicile graduating from UK higher education institutions in 2014, a decrease on the previous year’s flow from HE. However, the employment prospects of these graduates had improved on the previous year’s cohort. By early 2015, a larger proportion of the 2013/14 graduating cohort were employed six months after leaving (78.5 per cent compared with 77.4 per cent for the 2012/13 cohort), whereas a smaller proportion were unemployed (5.4 per cent, down from 6.2 per cent previously).

We had also anticipated a fall in the numbers and proportion of graduates moving directly on to further study, partly reflecting fears in the HE sector about a fall in the popularity of postgraduate study but also reflecting the buoyancy in the jobs market. Again we were correct, as 17.8 per cent were engaged in further study topping up to a higher degree (generally a taught master’s) or first degree, and this represents a slight fall on previous results (19.1 per cent). However, the key concern in the sector centres on undergraduates studying under the new financial regime, who will have paid up to £9,000 per year in tuition fees, and who may be deterred from accruing more debt associated with further study. The first of these individuals will be graduating this year and thus will be surveyed in early 2016 (with data ready for analysis in June 2016).

We had also anticipated that a substantial minority of graduates, at least in the first few months (or even years), were still failing to secure graduate level jobs. The first release of data shows that, of UK/EU domiciled first degree graduates in employment who had studied full time, 68 per cent were in a professional, associate professional or managerial job (often deemed to be of graduate level). This is an increase from 66 per cent found for the previous year’s graduating cohort. It therefore indicates that just under one third of first degree graduates start off their employment in arguably non-graduate jobs. The full release of data next month will allow us to explore job quality in more detail, and to focus on home UK domiciled graduates. The current data release also indicates a positive movement in starting salaries among UK domiciled first degree graduates, with an increase from £20,500 to £21,000 in the average (median) full-time salary.

Some interesting patterns found last year appear to remain:

  • The brain drain is a trickle, but more of an issue among the very highly qualified: Very few UK graduates left the country to find work, but the proportion is considerably higher for doctoral graduates.
  • Female graduates are more employable but male graduates appear to get better jobs: Female graduates were more likely to be in work than males, and female postgraduates were the most likely to be in work. The highest unemployment rates were found for male first degree graduates.  Yet among first degree leavers, full-time salaries were higher on average for male graduates than for female graduates; and males were more likely to earn more than £25,000 (30 per cent compared with 19 per cent). This could reflect a greater likelihood among males of gaining professional and managerial jobs than females (indicated in last year’s survey results).
  • Subject of study matters:  The highest unemployment rates were found for computer science graduates, and mass communications and documentation graduates (this includes courses such as librarianship, media studies, public relations, publishing, film/TV production, and journalism). However, those most likely to gain graduate jobs included those from full-time first degree computer science courses. Other degrees likely to lead to graduate jobs were medicine and dentistry, veterinary science, subjects allied to medicine, engineering and technology, and architecture, building and planning graduates. The highest average salaries among those working full-time were seen for graduates from medicine and dentistry, veterinary science, engineering and technology and mathematical science studies.
  • Higher Education is just the start: First degree graduates from biological, physical or mathematical sciences, law, languages, and historical and philosophical studies were the most likely to move directly into further study. Males who had studied for sub-degree programmes were the most likely to be continuing with studies (generally topping up their qualification to a full degree). The previous survey also indicated that it was younger graduates who were more likely than older graduates to move directly into further study
  • Graduates stick to where they know: The previous survey also indicated that graduates were most likely to be employed soon after graduating in the same region as their home region (before moving to university) or their study region (where their university is based).

We eagerly await the full data release and will post our findings.

You may also be interested in reading our forthcoming report for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 'Understanding employers' graduate recruitment and selection practices'. This report should be published by the Department very soon, and will be announced on this website.