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How are recent graduates faring? New data today

Kathleen Henehan

Kathleen Henehan

Former ​Policy Analyst
Universities UK
Graduation ceremony


This morning, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) published initial results from its 2014–15 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, which asks UK graduates what they are doing six months after leaving university.

The results are certainly encouraging: 72% of UK and EU domiciled graduates who left university in 2015 were employed; 6% were working while studying; 13% were in further study; 5% were unemployed; and 4% were taking time out for other activities, such as travelling.

What's more, 71% of full-time first degree graduates employed in the UK found themselves in occupations classified as professional, an improvement upon last year's results (68% in 2013–14), and with a with median salary of £21,000.

These results are largely in line with those published in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' 2015 Graduate Labour Market Statistics (GLMS), an analysis based on the Office for National Statistics' Labour Force Survey. According to the 2015 GLMS, 87% of young graduates (aged 21–30) are in work, compared to 72% of young non-graduates; the median salary for young graduates is £24,000 as compared to £18,000 for non-graduates.

Considered alongside the similarly positive graduate employment outcomes shown by both the DLHE and the GLMS in recent years (see previous blog), today's results continue to show that employers value the critical, creative and technical skills developed at university.

The full effect of 'Brexit' is not yet known; but graduates fare best during times of uncertainty

There is, of course, something of an elephant in the room: the result of last Thursday's referendum on EU membership lends a considerable amount of uncertainty – which will depend on what kind of deal the UK agrees with Brussels –  and the implications that this may have upon our economy in general, and the graduate labour market in particular.

As of now, it would be at best speculative and at worst careless to place a great deal of weight upon predictions about the implications of 'Brexit' for the graduate labour market over the coming years.

But here's what we do know: graduates consistently fare best during times of uncertainty. Longitudinal GLMS data shows that while unemployment rose for all workers during 2008 and 2009, the increase was larger among non-graduates of both young (21–30) and working age (16–64) than it was for graduates and postgraduates. Why? That answer is of course beyond the scope of this blog post, but a substantial part of it must lie with the high-level technical and transferable skills that graduates bring to the workplace.

The majority of employers are satisfied or very satisfied with recent graduates

The 2015 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey found that a vast majority of employers are satisfied or very satisfied with recent graduates' technical, numeracy, analytical, problem-solving and team-working skills, as well as their positive attitude to work. Their assessment of graduates' skills were, on average, significantly higher than those of non-graduates.

Across the UK, universities continue to develop students' critical and creative capacities through innovative forms of work experience, work-based learning, and enterprise and entrepreneurship activities. It's these types of experiences – and these particular skills – that allow graduates not just to thrive, but also to innovate and lead.  In a sense, they highlight the wide range of benefits that students tend to accrue from university and then carry on to our wider society. Previous research has linked degree attainment to higher reported levels of health and well-being, civic engagement, philanthropy and entrepreneurial activity (p.19).

In fact, HESA has recently put the DLHE under consultation, with a partial remit to develop graduate outcomes indicators that are wider and more illustrative of the benefits derived from a university education than employment and earnings alone. Innovative indicators will allow universities and prospective students to assess not just the links between different courses and employment outcomes, but also, the extent to which these courses provide graduates with the skills, resilience and attitudes to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Today's results have shown that recent graduates are clearly up for that challenge, as will those in the years to come.

Leave a Comment

Sharon Cahill
Sharon Cahill says:
1 July 2016 at 09:10

I welcome a different approach to graduate employment metric as some students still suffer (despite their 'good' degree) from institutional racism and sexism 


Office 365 Specialist in Stoke-on-Trent
Office 365 Specialist in Stoke-on-Trent says:
17 July 2016 at 21:46

As a technology company based in the UK its important for us to stay on the edge of current technology. Employing graduates is a very important part of our growth strategy and has helped us to double our turn over in the last 12 months.

As Office 365 is now the largest cloud platform in the world for businesses we needed to respond to the market trend and graduates helped achieve this without months of trading and investment.

If your not looking at graduates to fill your vacancies then your missing a trick.

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