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Employment data reveals added 'value' for graduates

Greg Wade

Greg Wade

Policy Manager
Universities UK


With questions over the 'value' of university education still very much in the national spotlight, yesterday's Graduate Labour Market Statistics have provided some much-needed evidence to the debate. As graduate employment and salaries rise, it is clear that the notion the UK has an over-supply of graduates with worthless degrees is a myth.

Yesterday's data reveals that both graduates and postgraduates of working age have consistently higher employment rates than those without degrees – 16.4 and 16.6% higher respectively – and both working age and younger graduates and postgraduates are three times more likely than non-graduates to be employed in a highly-skilled job.

Younger graduates in particular – who are arguably most affected by current debates around tuition fees and future debt – have seen a 1.7% rise in employment rate, and a 1.9% growth in highly-skilled employment

These employment rates are at their highest level since statistics in their present form began in 2006, and while this ought to be no surprise – the overall employment rate in the UK has seen similar growth – it would seem to confound the notion that there is an over-supply of graduates.

Indeed, the most recent What do graduates do analysis reports that in 2016, 440,000 new professional jobs were added to the UK, but there were just under 320,000 UK-domiciled first-degree graduates to fill them; in effect a skills-shortage gap of over 120,000. Added to this, the Institute of Student Employers have recently predicted a likely 11% rise in graduate recruitment among their members for 2018, making the need for more graduates even more stark. This is likely to be a long-term trend, as employers have similarly told the Confederation of British Industry that they expect the greatest demand for skills over the next three to five years will be for higher skills (+75%), and have consistently predicted this increase in demand for the last five years.

The value of graduates to the UK economy is therefore without question, but yesterday's data also revealed financial benefits for the individuals themselves. The average annual salary premium for graduates in the workforce compared to non-graduates has now reached £10,000 – an increase of £1,000. While there has been no change in the median salary for young graduates, this is likely a reflection of the relatively low increase in salaries in the economy as a whole.

By contrast, although there has been a dip in the employment rate for postgraduates, the median salary for postgraduates of working age has risen, with their postgraduate premium now standing at £16,000 – also an increase of £1,000.​

Clearly, the 'value' of the university experience encompasses far more than just the job and salary graduates get at the end of it. But with the post-18 funding review now underway, we can expect the debate to rage on. Yesterday's data is therefore timely; it is now more important than ever to highlight the continuing – and in some cases increasing – returns on offer for individual graduates, as well as their impact on the UK economy.​

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