Higher education and graduates

We have 50 years' experience of researching within and about the higher education sector.

Our higher education (HE) research takes both an institutional perspective and an individual perspective. We gather the feedback and insights from staff, examine policy and practice, and capture the views, decisions and lived experiences of people of all ages as they move from being prospective students through to being students, on to graduates and ultimately employees.

Our clients include: HE sector policy bodies, HE institutions, employers and employer organisations.

Download this graphic for an overview of IES research projects spanning pre-16 education to post-16 choices, including apprenticeships, technical education, and higher education for young people and adults. 

Our portfolio covers all types of students and learning:

  • students from under-represented backgrounds;
  • undergraduates and postgraduates;
  • full-time, part-time and distance learners;
  • overseas students and those from the UK;
  • HE in Further Education; and
  • private HE institutions.

To discuss working with us in this area, please contact Emma Pollard.

Student choices and mobility

We explore how and why prospective students and graduates make the choices they do. We examine their choices about how, where and what to study, whether to work whilst studying, whether (and when) to progress to additional higher level study, what career to aim for, how and where to find work, how to make the transition from graduate to employee, and whether to return to HE later in a career.

We examine the factors, people and information influencing these choices, and the outcomes of these choices. Our work has focused on sectors within HE (such as postgraduates or part-time study), regions and nations within the UK, and specific groups of students (such as mature students, students in the creative field and ethnic minorities).

Student experience

We observe the real experience of being a student following the journey through HE - as individuals move from the pre-enrolment visit, through induction and early years, to their final year. We explore what influences their experiences and satisfaction levels, including finances, study mode, interaction with staff and support mechanisms, work experience and interaction with employers.

The graduate labour market

Once people leave higher education as a graduate or postgraduate and enter the labour market, our research covers the influence of:

  • the three principal agents in the graduate recruitment process: graduates, employers and HE institutions;
  • intermediaries such as recruitment agencies; and
  • the policy environment and legal framework that they all operate within.

We also examine:

  • employers’ need for and development of higher level skills;
  • where and how graduates enter the labour market, carve out their early careers and experience the graduate recruitment process;
  • employers' strategies and practices for reaching out to graduates and sorting out the ‘best’; and
  • the employability initiatives and support provided by HE institutions to prepare their students and graduates for life beyond HE.

We also advise on and research talent management strategies in employing organisations and the factors and drivers for these.

The impact and future direction of HE

Our research considers the role and purpose of HE and the impact it has on the economy (at local and national levels), and on individuals' lives.

We examine how the experience, skills, knowledge and qualifications gained can influence a range of outcomes including earnings and social mobility (and distance travelled).

Our research here also explores the workings of HE and how policy changes and other external factors impact upon the real-world practice of the sector and institutions.

Our work in this area

IES experts

Emma Pollard

Matthew Williams

Emma Pollard
Principal Research Fellow

Matthew Williams
Senior Research Fellow

Related projects

Understanding institutional provision for students with mental health problems/physical impairments
Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

Understanding employers’ graduate recruitment practices
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Evaluation of the University of Oxford's outreach work
University of Oxford

Student Income and Expenditure Survey 2014-15
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Understanding mature entrants’ transitions to postgraduate study
Department for Business Innovation and Skills

Creative Graduates - Creative Futures: Survey of the Career Patterns of UK Graduates in Art, Design and Media
The Council for Higher Education in Art & Design (CHEAD)