Longitudinal Education Outcomes Data

On Tuesday, for the first time ever, employment and salary outcomes of graduates, broken down by universities and their courses, were made publicly available by the Department for Education. This publication brings together data from the Student Loan Book, HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions. It focuses on the employment and earnings outcomes in 2014/15 for those who graduated with an undergraduate degree in 2008/09, 2010/11 and 2012/13 from a higher education institution (HEI) in Great Britain. Data is presented for 23 subject areas and split by gender, subject studied and HEI. To provide context, splits by HEI are accompanied by information on graduates’ average attainment prior to commencing their studies and, as an indicator of disadvantage, their Participation of Local Areas (POLAR) classification.

There are a number of caveats in terms of what is or isn’t included in the data. For example, the data doesn’t include:

  • Alternative HE providers (with the exception of the Universality of Buckingham);
  • The proportion of graduates who are employed in graduate occupations;
  • Whether employment is full-time or part-time.

In addition, the assessment of students’ prior attainment covers their A Level scores, but doesn’t show other qualifications (e.g. BTECs). What the data does show is that there is a correlation between prior attainment and graduate earnings. The data also doesn’t capture where the graduates ended up working, i.e. within the region where they studied or elsewhere. As we know, regional differences in pay are considerable. In addition, the breakdown does not include by ethnicity – evidence to date suggests that this can have an impact on graduate salary (as does gender).

It’s worth pointing out the broad range of courses contained within each of the 23 subject (JACS) codes. For example ‘physical sciences’ contains courses ranging from Physics to Forensics & Archaeological Sciences. And finally, as the Department for Education highlights in the main text accompanying the data release, it currently does not have access to self-assessment earnings and therefore earnings outcomes in this publication are not fully representative of graduates in self-employment. This is particularly important to bear in mind when exploring data on subjects where graduates typically progress onto self-employment, notably the Creative Arts and Design sector.

Taking into account these caveats, what does the data tell us?

There is so much data that I think it will take a while to unpick and draw any conclusions. However, some broad headlines include (and they will probably come as no surprise) that 5 years after graduating, in general, STEM graduates earnings are higher than for Arts and Humanities (although Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences fare less well). In terms of median earnings, Medicine and Dentistry are in first place, followed by Veterinary Science and then Economics graduates. By institution, earnings are typically higher for graduates from London universities and that by mission group, a number of Russell Group institutions score highly. Of the 23 subject areas, the bottom three in descending order are Mass Communication and Documentation, Agriculture and Creative Arts and Design. As previously mentioned, it’s worth factoring in that a considerable number of Creative Arts and Design graduates are self-employed. 

It’s also worth, when looking at the data, considering that the average salary in 2014-15 for 25-29 year olds, according to the Office for National Statistics, was £20,800. At some universities the median graduate salary falls below this figure.

On a more positive note, the data on the proportion of graduates by subject that are in sustained employment (or further study) five years after graduating shows that regardless of subject the vast majority are in employment. Interestingly, when taking into account self-employment, Creative Arts and Design students are more likely to be in employment than, for example, those that studied  computer science, combined subjects or business, five years after graduation.

I’d recommend the WonkHE website whose team have done some crunching of data as well as produced a number of relevant articles which are well worth a read.

What does this all mean when working with learners?

Most learners who are considering HE will be interested in data on graduate earnings. That’s fair enough, but it shouldn’t be the only factor to take into account when making decisions on what to study and where. They should be made aware that there are certain caveats, especially if they are considering a Creative Arts and Design courses. Learners need to be aware of labour market data when making choices. For example, labour market projections indicate that there will be an increasing demand in professional and managerial occupations, and that an increasing majority of London employees will have a higher level qualification. In the context of Creative Arts and Design, learners will be interested to know that in 2016 the UK Creative Economy was worth £84.1 billion with 2.8 million jobs of which around 47% is generated within London (GLA), and that the UK is a world leader in the creative industries (Arts Council, England). It is also important to know that a significant number of graduate vacancies do not stipulate a specific subject. The Prospects website and publication, What Graduates Do?, shows that graduates progress onto a wide variety of careers, often unconnected to their undergraduate subject. Learners need to be made aware that full-time HE is not the only option and that there are an increasing number of opportunities to combine work with higher level learning.

Looking ahead, the Department for Education plan to develop a regular cycle of publications covering graduate outcomes to, as they state, improve the information available to students when deciding on HEIs and subject. Added to these we already have university league tables, the key information sets, HESA’s Destination of Leavers surveys, and the forthcoming TEF ratings – gold, silver and bronze. With this in mind, it’s never been more important for our college learners to have access to professionally trained careers advisers to help them make sense of this plethora of data.

Further information