Data from the first ever Graduate Outcomes Survey, published today by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), has revealed that three-quarters of recent graduates were employed in highly skilled occupations 15 months after graduation.
The new experimental statistics reveal the employment status, careers and salaries of nearly 770,000 graduates who completed a higher education qualification at a UK university in 2017/18.
The Graduate Outcomes Survey replaces the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, which surveyed university leavers just six months after course completion. The two surveys measure different metrics and are, therefore, incomparable for analysts looking for long-term trends.
Paul Clark, chief executive of Hesa said today: “The release of the Graduate Outcomes experimental statistics represents the first of an annual time series which will give a clear view of the transition from higher education to the workforce. The survey captures rich and robust data and ensures the information we collect reflects recent changes in the HE sector and in the graduate labour market.”
But others, including Universities UK (UUK), have questioned the reliability of some of the data. A spokesperson for UUK urged members of the press in an email sent on Tuesday 16 June to use the new statistics “responsibly and with care”. The spokesperson added: “Through the data gathering process our members have reported a number of concerns and problems which are worth bearing in mind when using the data.”
Graduate Outcomes Survey: what are the results?
According to Hesa, 59% of course leavers had found full-time employment, 10% had found part-time employment, 19% were in some form of further study and 4% were unemployed and had no job lined up. The remaining 8% were either volunteering, travelling, caring for a relative, about to start work or in an unknown pattern of work. In total, 90% were in some form of work or further study.
Three-quarters (73%) of first-time degree graduates were employed on a permanent contract, compared to 26% who were volunteering or employed either on a fixed-term, temporary or zero hours contract.
In this new survey, graduates were asked three questions to summarise how they felt 15 months after completing their course. Nearly nine in 10 (86%) agreed that what they did after university was meaningful, eight in 10 agreed their current occupation fits their future career plans and seven in 10 (72%) agreed they were utilising what they learned during their course in their postgraduate pursuits.
The statistics also show that female graduates earned less than their male counterparts – even when working in careers with similar job profiles. For example, a male graduate working in a high skilled job earned £26,000 15 months after graduating – but a female graduate earned £24,000. Even in medium and low-skilled professions, male graduates earned between £500 and £1,000 more than their female counterparts per annum.
The figures also show that 14% of male graduates earned £39,000, compared to 8% of females. Male graduates are statistically overrepresented in all five pay brackets above £27,000, with female graduates overrepresented in all five pay brackets under £26,999.
Overall, male graduates were paid 10% more than female graduates. Females were also slightly more likely to be in part-time employment than males.
Graduates with a known disability were less likely to find full-time employment (53%) than graduates without a known disability (62%) and were more likely to be unemployed (5%) than graduates with no known disability (3%).
The survey also revealed similar disparities between white graduates and black, Asian, or mixed heritage graduates. Black graduates were nearly twice as likely to be unemployed than white graduates, for example.
- White graduates were more likely to be employed full time (62%) and less likely to be unemployed (2.8%)
- Black graduates were less likely to be employed full time (53.1%) and more likely to be unemployed (5.5%)
- Asian graduates were less likely to be employed full time (54.7%) and more likely to be unemployed (6.4%)
- Graduates with mixed heritage were less likely to be employed full time (56.1%) and more likely to be unemployed (4.1%)
Graduate Outcomes Survey: what are the criticisms?
The new survey has been criticised by some in the sector for the way Hesa collected the figures.
Writing in the Higher Education Policy Institute’s (Hepi) daily blog on Wednesday 17 June, University of Portsmouth deputy vice-chancellor Paul Hayes outlined his concerns
“The new survey was conducted fifteen months after graduation – or in the final weeks of study for anyone who started a twelve month postgraduate course the academic year following their graduation.
“Their taught courses will have finished and most will be thinking ‘what next?’ They may no longer see themselves as students but as unemployed jobseekers. They will, though, be registered full-time students. What did these graduates say in the survey?”
Prof Hayes and his colleagues Dean Machin and Paul Spendlove, Portsmouth’s strategic policy adviser and graduate outcomes manager respectively, said Hesa had over-reported the university’s graduate unemployment figure by 25% because of this inconsistency.
“Comparing Hesa’s survey data with our own records shows that 20% of the graduates Hesa records as unemployed during survey week were, at the time, registered with the university as full-time, postgraduate students,” the Portsmouth leaders explained.
Prof Hayes is concerned poor data will drive poor policymaking, especially at a time when government “includes ministers as well key advisers who would prefer the sector to shrink”.
Comparing Hesa’s survey data with our own records shows that 20% of the graduates Hesa records as unemployed during survey week were, at the time, registered with the university as full-time, postgraduate students
– Prof Paul Hayes, University of Portsmouth
UUK has issued a guidance document, which highlights inconsistencies and errors spotted in the new Graduate Outcomes data.
The figures were collected during one week 15 months after the end of the 2017/18 academic year, which UUK said makes the data “limited in how it can inform users”. UUK are also concerned that results have not been weighted, which means figures may vary in reliability depending on the response rate.
UUK has also said the new Graduate Outcomes data is “unable to provide an insight into whether a graduate fulfils their career and life ambitions” and “does not account for the wider reasons a person may choose to study in higher education”.
“UUK looks forward to feeding back to Hesa after the data is formally published so that Hesa can improve Graduate Outcomes ahead of the equivalent release next year,” the press briefing ended.
The Office for Students welcomed the new statistics and the new way of measuring graduate satisfaction.
Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the OfS, said: “It is good to see that higher education continues to have significant benefit for most students in their employment and career prospects. Most graduates also feel that they are doing something meaningful, making progress towards their future plans and applying the things they’ve learned at university or college.
“There is clearly more still to do to ensure that these benefits are felt equally across all student groups. It is concerning that BME graduates were more likely to be unemployed than their white peers, and that women are overrepresented in lower pay bands. With the labour market likely to become more challenging in the aftermath of Covid-19, it is more important than ever that all graduates are well prepared with the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil their career aspirations.”
Rachel Hewitt, Hepi’s director of policy and advocacy, echoed Mr Millward’s concerns about BME, disabled and female graduates.
“Employers need to do more to ensure their hiring practices are fair for all graduates and without discrimination. This needs to be accompanied by continuing support from universities for students who may face adversity when starting work. This will become particularly important in the coming years, as graduates face a particularly challenging labour market,” she said.