A red-letter day for many within and outside the higher education sector, the annual Graduate Outcomes (GO) survey is published today.
It shows what graduates from the 2017/18 academic year were doing 15 months after they left university. As the UK’s largest annual social survey, it contains a wealth of interesting data on graduate destinations, how much they earn and their attitudes towards study.
Of course, in a post COVID-19 world, the question arises of how relevant all this is.
Although the jobs market has been highly disrupted by the pandemic, that disruption will not persist indefinitely. The graduate labour market looks to be less seriously affected than other areas of the economy. While some things will change, students will still graduate from university, they will still go into the labour market, and they will mainly make similar choices to graduates pre-pandemic.
In fact, the next few surveys will be invaluable in tracking how the economy changes in the wake of the social and economic disruption of COVID-19.
Overseen by HESA and outsourced to IFF Research, GO is gaining attention today because it is used as the basis of many metrics in HE and in particular in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Over the coming weeks and months GO will be used to examine statistics on graduate employment, unemployment and underemployment.
Importantly, data from the next few years will be used to examine the impact of COVID-19 on graduates and will form crucial parts of the key information set that is used to inform anyone thinking of applying to university about the prospects of those graduating from the courses they want to apply for.
The data published today tells us that, 15 months after graduation, 71% of leavers were working, 10% were combining work and study (so doing one or the other full time and the other activity part time), 9% were in further study, 5% were unemployed (including those who had a job to go to in the future – about 20% of those unemployed) and 6% were doing something else, usually travelling or caring for family members.
But there’s a great deal more to GO than just a set of metrics, and there’s a great deal in it that will be of interest to the Jisc community.
Taking a look at historical data is interesting too. UK universities have been collecting statistics on graduate outcomes for a considerable period. Some institutions have figures going back into the Victorian age, but it wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 1960s that a concerted effort was made to collect data on a national level. UK university graduates were surveyed six months after they had left university to find out which jobs they were doing.
Reading these reports is a fascinating window into universities’ past and what they saw as their purpose.
For example, the number of men entering the clergy was tracked separately as was, rather embarrassingly in the modern age, the number of women graduates moving on to secretarial college. The survey continued with the same basic format, with additions over the years to gather information on further study and a separate output for polytechnics.
By the 90s, HESA was producing an annual First Destination Survey (FDS) of graduates six months after leaving university. It had evolved into an exercise that formed some of the crucial bedrock upon which a good deal of careers and employability guidance rested.
The later Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Survey (DHLE) was a further development that incorporated part-time learners for the first time. DLHE continued as a survey of all leavers – at any level, from HND right up to PhD – from every accredited UK HE institution.
Things changed significantly with the introduction of the TEF in 2017. Metrics derived from DLHE became central to performance indicators for institutions. DLHE captured the interest of stakeholders across the sector: in planning offices, registry, senior management and policy functions.
To more effectively serve the needs of a new group of users, to position the survey more towards performance measures and to address certain questions about quality and data consistency, the new GO was developed, surveying graduates 15 months after graduation.
Crucial changes included that switch in reference date, which means it is no longer possible or desirable to compare to DHLE. Institutions no longer collect and code their own data.
The GO is a massive round-up of everything new graduates did. This means it provides a comprehensive picture of all the jobs and courses that were available to graduates in the 15 months after graduation and which route they decided upon.
The data can be sliced in a myriad of ways, but from the student-facing perspective, it has particular uses in looking at the way jobs markets and job-seeking evolve, in how graduates move around the country, and how graduates view their choices.