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How to publish Graduate Outcomes data? Our consultation on open data release

HESA has consulted informally with representatives of HE and FE organisations about the design of its forthcoming Graduate Outcomes Open Data release.

Data on graduate destinations has long been associated with its use in market-based consumer choice, and regulatory evaluation mechanisms. Over time the data also becomes vitally important in helping to understand the impact of major events (like Brexit or the Coronavirus pandemic) on HE and on graduates. 

The new Graduate Outcomes data will be no different, and we are pleased it will offer high-quality support for decision-making to users in government, civil society and commercial organisations, the press, and the general public, as well as to the HE sector.

To make the national survey data as useful and accessible as possible (which is one of HESA’s strategic objectives), HESA has recently undertaken an informal consultation with representative bodies in the HE and FE sectors. Together, these organisations are well-placed to offer views of their members, as well as being significant users of data on graduate outcomes themselves. 

We are conscious of the fact that Graduate Outcomes is a new product with significant differences from its predecessor. In light of this, HESA is actively considering the variety of potential onward uses of the data and steps we might take to mitigate misunderstandings or misapplications of it. This informal consultation with key users is part of this approach.

The organisations we consulted were as follows:

  • The Association of Colleges
  • Million Plus
  • The Russell Group
  • University Alliance
  • Universities UK
  • Guild HE
  • Independent HE
  • The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS)
  • The Higher Education Strategic Planners’ Association (HESPA)

The consultation consisted of HESA developing a series of “wireframes” of tables and charts, for consideration and discussion. The wireframes were developed on the basis of established and refreshed user needs accumulated during the NewDLHE review that led to the establishment of the survey, plus insights gathered during the process of implementation. They also reflected our developing understanding of the complete dataset, based on preliminary analysis undertaken as we neared the end of the processing stage that follows collection.

A peek into our processes

Let’s take a step back and I will explain how this occurs. As part of the statistical production process, HESA develops sketches of any prospective new visualisations. This starts with discussions that lead to the creation of a conceptual-level view, where we try to bring together our understanding of user interests with what we expect to find in the data. This often looks like the visual expression of ideas like “how about a Sankey chart with domicile, provider location, and activity location as the three nodes?”, or “what about a 100% stacked bar chart showing funding for graduate start-ups?”. (Visitors to HESA HQ will know we like whiteboards a lot. And post-it notes. And whiteboard paint even more.) 

The sketches that we think are interesting then need careful evaluation by our statistical analysts, who ask questions like: “is this the best way of presenting this information?”, “What filters, drop-down options, and radio buttons, will help the user delve deeper into the story told by this data?”, “What size populations will we end up with if this option is added – do we just end up with a table of fives and zeroes?”. We refer to this process as “exploratory analysis”, and it takes place alongside other types of post-collection data processing and quality assurance activity, which it both informs, and is informed by. At the end of this work, we start implementing drafts of full logical views of the tables and charts we are intending to produce. We carry on refining these, and ordering them, to ensure that the output offers insights in a structured and accessible way. 

Meeting of minds

Representatives chosen by the consulted organisations evaluated our proposals, and we held a (marathon-like) three-hour teleconference meeting for all participants on 13 March 2020. This meeting was highly productive, and delivered validation of many of our design choices, while offering around fifty suggestions for improvement, addition, and change. Examples included removing a prospective table showing the proportion of valid respondent contact details, and adding in a new institution-level table and additional visualisations on the ‘graduate voice’ questions. A significant theme was adding extra filters to increase the granularity of information available, so (for example) there are lots more regional filters planned now, than there were originally. We have since written back to consultees, to confirm our intention of progressing most of the matters discussed. 

As a result, we have increased confidence in our designs, and users can be assured that we are maintaining the collaborative approach that has been a feature of Graduate Outcomes over the five years from the deliberative public engagement started in 2015, to the delivery of the first year’s data in 2020.

Planned publication of tables and visualisations produced from the Graduate Outcomes survey will be the latest of HESA’s major datasets to be released as Open Data. Data that is open promotes transparency for anyone with a stake in UK HE, it generates economic benefit through commercial re-use, and it stimulates innovation in the creation of new tools and services which benefit users and consumers. 

The development of the Graduate Outcomes survey has created a comprehensive national data source on the pathways taken by leavers from HE, fifteen months after graduation. It gives detailed insight into the roles graduates undertake, their further study, and offers insight into graduates’ perceptions of their activity.

Stay up to date

You can keep up to date on the timings for Graduate Outcomes releases via our publication schedule - we will provide specific dates no later than four weeks before each release. You can also read more about Graduate Outcomes and the upcoming releases on our Open Data page. Here you’ll find other recent blogs and content that are also vital reads in the run-up to publication. 

We’re always keen to hear from potential users of these new data outputs, as well as existing users of our other data outputs. Contact us on [email protected] or call us on +44 (0)1242 388 513.

If you would like to be notified when HESA publishes new data and official statistics about UK higher education, please sign up for HESA Open data alerts

Dan Cook

Dan Cook

Deputy Director, Data & Innovation