Most graduates use their skills but disadvantaged students still lag behind

New research by HEFCE reveals that the vast majority of university graduates gain graduate-level jobs within the first few years of their careers. The report examines the employment outcomes for graduates three and a half years after graduation and compares them to the outcomes after six months.

Early outcomes are not representative

The six-month survey has caused concern by indicating that not all graduates find graduate-level positions immediately after graduation.

The problem is most pronounced in particular subject areas. For example, only 82 per cent of computer science graduates have found a job or embarked upon further study six months after graduation, and only three-quarters of those found graduate-level jobs. In comparison, over 99 per cent of medical graduates find graduate-level jobs within six months.

Similar differences can be found across ethnic groups: only 78 per cent of Chinese graduates will have found a job within six months compared to 91 per cent of white graduates.

In contrast, 78 per cent of graduates are employed in graduate-level positions 40 months after graduation. Across subjects, employment chances converge, with the computer science graduates having nearly as good a chance of being in a professional job as other graduates. Chinese students achieve parity with white graduates’ employment rates after previously lagging by 14 per cent.

Some student groups remain at a disadvantage

One of the groups for whom outcomes remain stable are students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The report finds that they continue to lag behind more privileged graduates in their employment outcomes as well as their academic performance.

Students from disadvantaged areas of the country, where people are less likely to attend university, are less likely to find employment. After three and a half years, only 60 per cent will have found graduate-level positions, compared to 67 per cent of the least disadvantaged graduates.

The outcomes for Black Caribbean graduates are similarly poor, with only 55 per cent finding graduate-level employment in the medium term.

These medium-term career outcomes are critical for the future success of the graduates. Careers are built on early jobs and a low-paying first job can affect graduates’ earnings for the remainder of their working lives.

Unemployment among this group of graduates, or employment in lower-skilled jobs, is also costly to those around them who miss out on the benefits of the graduates’ skills.

Graduates leave university with a broad range of transferable skills and an ability to rapidly absorb and apply advanced knowledge. That capacity makes them both extremely valuable to employers and a major contributor to productivity growth in businesses.

Previous research suggests that increasing the share of graduates in the workforce by 1 per cent can lift productivity by 0.2-0.5 percentage points. Using the skills of those from disadvantaged backgrounds more effectively could improve the graduates’ wellbeing and unlock additional productive capacity for the UK.

A note on definitions

Graduate-level jobs are difficult to classify and harder to identify in the data. The report uses professional and managerial classifications as a proxy for jobs that require graduate-level skills, following HEFCE’s previous work.

There will always be marginal cases where a description of ‘graduate-level’ will be misrepresentative of the occupation in question; but that we are confident that the approach we have used makes the best use of the available data.

In future, HEFCE plans to link HMRC’s tax records to the student records we hold, which will allow a richer and more accurate investigation of the medium- and long-term outcomes for graduates.