Graduate salaries are a distorting measure of student outcomes, assigning most value to high-paid careers likely to be found in particular sectors and regions of the UK, new research argues.
The research argues assumptions and data sets need to change to reflect that students do not share one view of post-graduate success.
Staying local to where they studied or grew up, or pursuing a career with social, environmental or cultural significance, may hold more value for those graduates than a financially lucrative career in London and the South East of England.
The report foreword, written by former universities minister Chris Skidmore, warns that a measure like the annual longitudinal educational outcomes (LEO) data “risks encouraging a form of social mobility” that contributes towards a ‘brain drain’ from the regions to London and the home counties.
The report by social mobility organisation, The Bridge Group, funded by higher education charity the UPP Foundation, uses figures from the annual Graduates Outcomes data and surveys with 35 graduates of four universities: Exeter, Hull, Lincoln and Sunderland.
The Graduate Outcomes data, compiled annual by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), collects the salaries of graduates – but also asks respondents to detail how valuable their employment is to them and their future career plans.
All universities play a key role in their local economies and should be judged on the basis of meeting the values and expectations of their graduates, rather than simply crude salary data
– Richard Brabner, UPP Foundation
Fifty-one per cent of graduates in the UK remain local to their university after graduation: 39% of those that moved away to university stay put, rising to 76% of those that commuted to university. Graduates that stay local are as likely as those that moved away to say they were in paid employment that was “on track” with their career plans. Students that live near their university after graduation are more likely to be mature students, from a lower socio-economic background or the first in their family to go to university.
The survey found that those graduates that stay do so for several reasons: proximity to affordable houses, places and environments they like, and family and friends, were among the most common reasons cited by respondents. Graduate retention can build up a skilled workforce and contribute to regeneration, the report notes.
For these reasons, the report says policymakers and universities need “a more inclusive and contextualised view of success”. To increase graduate retention, universities can help students find local employment and contribute towards an area’s cultural amenities, such as museums, galleries and a vibrant high street. Surveys of graduates of Hull University suggest the status of City of Culture in 2017 created “a lasting effect” on the city’s appeal. Universities should also champion the stories of students that stay local and engage with small and medium-sized enterprises capable of offering graduate employment.
Dr Penelope Griffin, director of higher education and impact at the Bridge Group, said: “This report shows that while graduate retention in the regions is under-valued, there are practical steps that we can take to address this – and to support its growth. Graduate retention makes a significant contribution to levelling-up in the regions.”
“Universities have been criticised for pulling talent away from the regions and towards metropolitan cities, but the reality is much more nuanced,” noted Richard Brabner, the director of the UPP Foundation. “All universities play a key role in their local economies and should be judged on the basis of meeting the values and expectations of their graduates, rather than simply crude salary data.”
A Public First survey commissioned by the UPP Foundation found that, by a majority of more than 2:1, the public would prefer graduates to return to their local area to work instead of migrating away.