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Don't mistake Graduate Outcomes for DLHE

The stage is set, and the curtain is about to rise…

In my last blog I gave you a quick backstage tour of Graduate Outcomes as we published our survey methodology statement.

We will soon publish the first set of outputs from the survey. As we reach this significant milestone, I thought I would pause for a moment to reflect on the transition from DLHE to Graduate Outcomes. In particular, I would like to explain the connection between the two surveys and most importantly the dissimilarities between the two, which make it impossible to compare them. 

The Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey (DLHE) collected high level information on the activities of leavers, six months after they finished a Higher Education course. A series of reviews led to the conclusion that significant changes to the survey approach were needed, not least to address the evolution in the graduate labour market and the need for more nuanced understanding of graduates’ experiences of the post-HE environment.

This led to the creation of Graduate Outcomes - a centralised survey of graduates 15 months after they complete a Higher Education course.

What has not changed?

The fundamental desire to understand the contribution of Higher Education in an individual’s life. As producers and consumers of knowledge, we feel a strong need to find out where people, from all walks of life, go after leaving a university or college. We want to measure the distance travelled, in geographic and socio-economic terms.

In practice, at the heart of both DLHE and Graduate Outcomes is a survey. The starting point is a list of people about whom we want to collect a few pieces of information. We try and reach out to everyone on that list and hope they will respond! 

We then collate all these pieces of information to provide a comprehensive and, as far as possible, representative view on the destinations and outcomes for leavers of Higher Education.

And this is the point at which we diverge…

What has changed?

Point of reference

DLHE measured outcomes six months after course completion and Graduate Outcomes does it 15 months after. We cannot assume that graduates will be doing the same activities at the six and 15-month point, even if it was the same set of graduates. Therefore, one must not compare, for example, the proportion of graduates in employment or further study at the two reference points.

Greater choice and stronger voice

Everything we measured using DLHE can still be measured using Graduate Outcomes. But the opposite is not true. For the first time, graduates can categorically identify themselves as self-employed, working on an artistic portfolio, a carer or traveling. These classifications were previously part of larger groups of activities, making it difficult to isolate the contribution of these unique sub-groups to our economy and the wider society.

Also for the first time we are asking graduates to reflect on their Higher Education experience in the context of their future plans, meaningfulness of their current activities and skills acquired while studying. These measures provide a nuanced and novel insight into the true value of Higher Education.

How the data is collected

Data for DLHE was collected and processed by individual Higher Education providers using a combination of methods which included a survey of graduates and other informed sources such as academic departments, student record systems or employers. Different providers used slightly different methods of data collection. The all-important occupation and industry coding were also carried out by individual institutions separately. Data gathered by all institutions was combined to produce one single data set.

Graduate Outcomes only uses one method of data collection and processing which is managed centrally by HESA. This leads to consistency of approach and makes the relationship between data quality and methodology more transparent.

So what?

Data collected by different people using different methods, albeit on the same topic, can often lead to different conclusions. The decisions we make on how to collect and process data have an impact on the scope to interpret and use these data meaningfully.

So, if you ever come across two similar looking sets of data that seem to be suggesting different things, look at their building blocks and how they were formed. They may have come from widely different sources or use different definitions for similar concepts which would explain the different conclusions. Don’t compare the two; instead focus on their individual merits as neither is necessarily a misrepresentation of reality.

Find out more

The Graduate Outcomes methodology statement (parts one and two) adds more context to this recommendation to prevent any temptation to make comparisons. The dissemination policy also highlights the fact that HESA will not undertake, publish or otherwise disseminate any comparisons of data between Graduate Outcomes and DLHE as any such comparisons are likely to generate highly questionable results that are open to misinterpretation.

National level statistics will be published in a Statistical Bulletin on 18 June. More detailed open data will be published on 23 June.


Neha Agarwal

Neha Agarwal

Head of Research and Insight