Tag Archives: graduate statistics

Moment of convergence

We’ve just released the 2018 edition of the venerable collaborative publication, ‘What do graduates do?’ . The remaining reader of this blog will have a good idea what this book – which has been a feature of the sector for 40 years – is all about, so I won’t go into a lot of detail

Of course, the core of WDGD is DLHE, and the way the book explains the labour market for 2016/17 leavers to prospective students and graduates. So, what does the data say? Those of you who follow media narratives about the graduate labour market may be rather surprised to hear that the graduate labour market is currently rather robust.

basic outcomes

The majority of graduates were working after six months – 74% – with unemployment standing at 5.1%, the lowest rate since the 1988/89 graduation year and so the lowest we’ve seen since the post-92 universities entered the sector.

74% of graduates in work after six months were in professional level employment, another relative high. Part of this is because of the success and popularity of new postgraduate loan systems and so we saw an increase in the proportion of graduates taking Masters degrees. This has the fortunate side-effect of potentially shunting some labour market issues out of the first degree sphere where they are visible, into the PGT area where they are, currently not. Although maybe not forever.

But the – live – questions about the ability of the UK Masters graduate labour market (such as it is) to absorb the sharp rise in new entrants it has experienced in the last two years are a topic for another piece – or workshop.

But, why is the first degree graduate labour market so strong, and why are we nevertheless feeling inundated with stories of underemployed graduates, and questioning the value of higher education?

The UK graduate labour market left recession around 2013 (note I don’t say ‘the labour market’) and since then much UK job creation has been at graduate level. Indeed, crucial economic actors such as the Bank of England and British Chambers of Commerce have been warning for some time of recruitment issues and labour shortages in a range of skilled professions, in tech, construction and business services. The BCC surveyed members at the end of 2017 and found that 71% of members who had tried to recruit found it difficult and that professional and managerial roles were the hardest positions to fill.

But, at the same time, the graduate labour market is concentrated in urban labour markets – a third of all UK graduates from 2016/17 started their careers in London, Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds. This means that whilst there are many options for graduates, they are not merely limited by subject choice (indeed, many good options are probably less subject-limited than many realise) but by geography. At the same time, graduates are not actually very geographically mobile and it could well be that this mobility is becoming more limited.

This has been one of the reasons behind the recent announcement of the Office for Students new Challenge Competition, inviting providers to develop projects to support graduates who opt to stay in their home regions. The OfS has recognised that whilst the league table agenda gives an advantage to institutions situated in urban labour markets or whose graduates work in London to maximise their salaries, the Industrial Strategy, and particularly the local strategies, mean that skilled graduate employees are needed to boost and revitalise regional economies. In addition, cost of living issues mean that even London weightings struggle to mitigate housing costs and many graduates suspect, with good reason, that even if their salary might be higher in London, their disposable income may not.

All this leads to a tension between sometimes conflicting priorities. The OfS understands that the appropriate reply to graduates from difficult labour markets who, despite struggling to find work, wish to remain in their home towns is not always ‘you ought to move to London/nearest large city’ and that these graduates represent a pool of talented individuals who are not always getting to use their hard-earned skills. If we can address some of those issues more effectively, everyone will win out, graduates rooted in their local communities who want good work in their home locales, and businesses often struggling to identify and recruit the people they need to thrive and grow.

Ultimately we are currently experiencing a relatively benign labour market for graduates. There is no telling how long this will last, but we should be robust in promoting what is going well (skilled urban labour markets) and what needs evidence and action. ‘What do graduates do?’ is a vital tool in the armoury of the careers professional but it can also have lessons for policy as sector and Government priorities converge on graduate employment as a key question.


Oxbridge admissions, student mobility and the need for an Oxbridge Of The North

There’s a good deal of justified concern about the new examination of admissions data to Oxford and Cambridge that is reported today.

I don’t propose to cover the issues of social class and ethnicity. They are deeply concerning but others know more than I do and will comment accordingly.

I’m going (to the surprise of nobody) to talk about geographic mobility.

One area that is particularly worrying people is the discovery that the institutions admit a lot of people from the Home Counties and not many from the north of England. And this strikes to the heart of one of the fundamental misconceptions about student behaviour that permeates commentary and policy on HE.

The assumption is that students will look at information – league tables and the like – and then choose the course that is ‘best’ for them and then go to that university. When they graduate, they will gather information again and then travel to wherever the jobs are and get work. This basic assumption drives all sorts of policy and thought about the way the sector can and should operate.

It is the basis on which the whole league table industry rests, for example, and it is a useful assumption which is marred only by one tiny detail.

That’s not what most students do.

Because students and graduates are a lot less mobile than anyone really realised.

If you take a look at data on where graduates go to university compared to where they were domiciled, you find that in 2016, half of graduates (well, 51%) had attended an institution in the same region as where they grew up. Almost all of those graduates will also stay in that region to work, which means that the largest group of 2016 graduates – 45% – never leave their home region either to study or to work. This has been the pattern for at least the last 15 years.

Most graduates go to work in the same region that they studied in (58%). Even more (69%) go to work in the region that they were originally domiciled.

Only 18% of graduates actually do what the assumption is that the typical young university student does – move away from home to go to university and then move again to get a job.

What is particularly interesting is that we don’t really know if this is new behaviour or not. It could be that graduates were never particularly mobile. Few UK graduates have ever gone overseas to start their career, for example.

What this means is that for most institutions, no matter how national or global their professed outlook, the largest group of students (in most cases the majority) are local students who have not travelled far to go to university. In discovering that Oxford and Cambridge have a lot of students who are from relatively nearby, the data just confirms that they’re not that unusual as institutions go, and that it is going to be very difficult to change this pattern.

So the issue becomes – should our two iconic universities both be relatively close together and in the same general part of the country?

The answer is clearly that rather than make students from the North travel South to become proper Home Counties graduates as nature intended all good graduates to be (as a lot of the commentary from people based in the Home Counties suggests), the more constructive approach would be to support one or more institutions outside the east/south east to gain the cachet of Oxbridge, because then – and only then – will students from the rest of the country genuinely start to have the same opportunities as those who grow up nearer to Oxbridge currently enjoy.

This is a lot harder an answer to enact that just to hand a few northern kids a metaphorical Golden Ticket so that they can leave the north and not come back. But if we’re serious about regional inequality, this is what needs to be done. At present the simple fact of the location of Oxford and Cambridge means that they are more of a benefit to the inhabitants of the south-east of the UK than they are to the rest. And this matters, deeply, when they dominate the professions and governance of this country to the extent that they do.

But another interesting question then arises – if Oxbridge can’t manage it, then to what extent can any UK institution realistically be expected to be genuinely national in outlook? We need to think a lot harder about some of these questions.

Myths about the graduate labour market – Number 2: Everyone goes to university nowadays

Each week* I will be tackling a common myth about university, graduates and the labour market and showing the data and research surrounding them so you can judge how valid those statements are. I started with the big one – that there are too many people getting degrees.

Next up, a related myth – that ‘everyone gets a degree nowadays’.

*may not be, strictly speaking, one post every week.

Continue reading Myths about the graduate labour market – Number 2: Everyone goes to university nowadays

Myths about the graduate labour market – Number 1: We have too many graduates

It’s been some time since I last tackled the most common myths currently circulating about graduates and the graduate labour market. The current state of the graduate labour market is a little murky in the post-EU-referendum economy, but the broad trends and themes are still current and so we will touch on those questions as we go.

Over the next few days I will examine some of the key misconceptions that circulate  in media and civil discussion and occasionally even in universities and policy, about graduates and the graduate labour market. In response, I will try to demonstrate a balanced picture of what is taking place.

Continue reading Myths about the graduate labour market – Number 1: We have too many graduates

Moving through history

The development of the Teaching Excellence Framework and the way that it will use measure of graduate employment as a metric to judge institutions makes it all the more important that we get a real grip on how the graduate labour market works.

Graduate migration – see my most recent piece for the latest data – is a phenomenon that has subtle but profound effects on the way we can and should think about graduate employment.

To help understand the migration groups, here is a graphic developed by my excellent colleague Ellen Logan.

migration patterns

Let’s revisit this year’s migration patterns.

leavers etc
Employment groups for UK domiciled graduates from 2013/14

It is now a slightly alarming 11 years since I first conducted an analysis of this kind, so let’s have a look at the data from graduates from 2002/3.

2003 migration patterns
Employment groups for graduates from 2002/3

There are some differences – most notably, Loyals have increased for all regions except London (and, interestingly, Northern Ireland), Incomers are also up in most places, and Stayers are down, quite a bit, in some places (especially Scotland).

But the basic patterns have not moved in over a decade. We may find that, in the future, regions retain slightly fewer people who moved to the area to study, but more people will not move far to study or work but these patterns are what graduates do to find work, and we can assume that this will continue. .

This shows that graduates are not as mobile as a lot of thinking has them and that many can’t or won’t move far or to locations that they do not have a connection with for work. There are practical implications – most graduates who go to work in London, for example, are either originally from the region or studied there. And the same effect is intensified for every labour market outside London.

If you’re a recruiter, this ought to make you think about how you source your talent. If you recruit in Leeds, your new recruits will largely have lived or studied nearby. If you a London-based recruiter with a diversity agenda, even if you see yourself as attracting talent from all over the country, in reality many of those attracted to your offer will have existing ties to the capital, with  implications for your ability to recruit BME graduates and graduates from less affluent backgrounds.

If we are to have metrics based on salary, therefore, we have to understand that they are at least to some degree a measure of where an institution is sited and where they draw their graduates from.

Much has been made of the IFS finding that a group of institutions have graduates who earn under the national average for all workers; anyone familiar with the graduate labour market can probably have a good stab at the identities of those institutions, predominantly universities in less affluent parts of the country, serving labour markets with low wages. We should not allow a situation to develop where institutions with a valuable function in developing local economies feel incentives to send their talented graduates outside those economies to ensure metrics are met.

For institutions, it makes it clear that you will need to be absolutely on point about your local labour markets and to understand where your student cohort comes from. There’s a lot more to understand about how and why graduates move to find work, and what this means for the UK. Is it right to think of the ‘UK graduate labour market’ at all as anything but an abstract, or is it really a series of overlapping markets with their own character and needs? And, crucially, how do we ensure that a framework develops that does not effectively penalise universities for not being near London? We have work to do.




The ‘Masters job’. Does it exist and how could we examine it?

This is an unabridged version of a section from my recent article in Graduate Market Trends about the Masters labour market in the UK. The first section, on Masters employment, is reproduced in unabridged form here.

There is a lively ongoing debate about the ‘graduate job’ and the question of which jobs require degrees. There is, however, consensus that a jobs market does exist for which first degrees are the main qualification and which is not always accessible for workers without this level of qualification.

Continue reading The ‘Masters job’. Does it exist and how could we examine it?

The 2016 graduate labour market in the UK

2015 turned out to be quite a positive year for the UK graduate labour market, so let’s take a look at what the new year might hold. As always, we will come back in 12 months to see how these predications fared.

And the first prediction carries on where we left off in 2015.

Getting used to skills shortages and recruitment difficulties

Recruitment difficulties and skills shortages were a feature of 2015 and they will be, if anything, even more central to the UK graduate labour market in 2016. We now have widespread graduate shortages across a range of key sectors, in engineering, in building and construction, in teaching, in health, in IT, in business services and in niches throughout the economy. Shortage of available graduates is affecting the ability of a minority of businesses and sectors to meet demand, and we should probably expect these difficulties to spread to other parts of the economy. 2016 will be about businesses learning to live with not always being able to find graduates when they need them and making plans to mitigate or avoid shortage. We’re not in 2011 any more.

Broadly positive employment outlook

Employment intentions are still up, but the rate of increase is slowing. Some employers, especially those in professional or IT services who had recruited strongly in the last year, may get more cautious on hiring as skills shortages make it harder to recruit, but overall we will likely see modest improvements in the graduate employment market and an increasingly benign jobs market for new graduates – although that doesn’t mean we can or should expect every new graduate to find work easily, or that those who don’t are failing.

But we do need to be careful. The outlook for manufacturing employment is not as positive, affected by weak export markets, by the continuing downturns in steel and in oil and gas, and by skills shortages. There are other factors at play that affect confidence as well….

An uncertain Euro referendum

I can’t bring myself to use the phrase ‘Brexit’, but 2016 looks likely to see a referendum on membership of the EU at some undeclared point, there will be a vicious media campaign, and leaving the EU is not considered likely to be positive for the economy in the short term. Business confidence is likely to be affected if it looks as if there is the prospect of a Brexit (now look what I’ve done), and a reduction in confidence means a weakening of the economy, and a weakening of employment intentions. A portion of the political skirmishing is likely to feature more rhetoric – and possible action – on curbs on immigration, which will exacerbate skills shortages.

Keep an eye on wages

Low inflation is keeping a lid on wage rises in many sectors, but skills shortages mean that some in-demand professions (especially in engineering, IT and professional services) are seeing much stronger wage pressures. The big question is about the salary expectations of the new cohort of graduates – the first to have paid the full £9,000 a year for the duration of their degrees. The repayment threshold of £21,000 means that many graduates in professional employment will start repaying from day 1 – will we see wages rises (as employers were predicting in 2011)? Will we see the rise of jobs paying £20,995 rather than £21,000? 2016 will be an interesting year for graduate wages.

The urbanisation of graduate work

Graduate employment is concentrated in cities, and that shows no sign of of changing soon. Over 40% of the working population in Newcastle, Manchester, York, Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow had a degree or equivalent at the end of 2014, and when we get figures for 2015, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham, Coventry, Norwich, Ipswich and Southampton could all have joined the list. For graduates looking for work – look to the cities. Smaller urban areas, and rural areas, will have some roles, but mainly in a public sector which is likely to continue to lose jobs.

For policy – graduates will play an increasingly important role in urban economies, and we need to get to grips with a future where the largest group of employees in many of our cities – in some cases a majority, and not just in London – will have degrees.

There are undoubtedly more themes that will emerge in 2016 for the graduate labour market, and I’ll keep you posted if and as they do. Happy New Year everyone.


Charlie’s Crystal Ball – how did I do in predicting the graduate labour market in 2015?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – a time when I get to look at what I said 12 months ago and see whether it turned out to be right. Or, alternatively, the bit where I mark my own homework and declare myself a genius.

This time last year I made five predictions about the graduate labour market. Let’s go through them one by one.

Continue reading Charlie’s Crystal Ball – how did I do in predicting the graduate labour market in 2015?