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How do we classify what graduates are doing?

Graduate activity is one of the core concepts for the Graduate Outcomes survey and has been central to HESA data about graduates since the original First Destinations Supplement, which was first published in the mid-1990s.

While Graduate Outcomes also collects other information about graduates, graduates are routed into subsequent questions according to their answers to the first two questions about activity, and most subsequent questions relate to what graduates said they were doing at the start of the survey. 

How we classify graduate activities is therefore an important part of how we analyse and publish Graduate Outcomes data. 

The questions we ask graduates about their activities

As mentioned above, graduates are asked two initial questions about their activities. 

The first question (which I will subsequently be identifying by its variable name, ALLACT) allows graduates to select the activities they were engaged in during the census week. Since graduates may be doing more than one thing – graduates may, for example, be working alongside a course of study, volunteering outside of the hours of their regular paid job, or caring for someone alongside work or study – they are allowed to select as many ALLACT options as apply. ALLACT thus provides us with a rich dataset on the activities that graduates are engaged in 15 months after graduation and how those different activities may interact.

The second question (which I will subsequently be identifying by its variable name, MIMPACT), asks graduates to select one of their ALLACT responses which they consider to be their most important activity. Graduates are free to decide how they wish to determine their most important activities, which means that graduates with the same combination of ALLACT responses may give different responses to the MIMPACT question. One can imagine, for example, two graduates both engaged in paid work for an employer while developing an artistic portfolio, one of whom feels that the job that pays the bills is their most important activity, while the other prioritises developing a portfolio, inasmuch as it may lead to opportunities in their chosen field.

There are many ways to decide what counts as a graduate’s activity, and different methods will be more practical for different onward uses of Graduate Outcomes data.

Both ALLACT and MIMPACT thus provide us with important perspectives on graduate activities. Neither variable, however, fills all our analytical needs and those of our users on its own.

Users of Graduate Outcomes data are interested in the activities that graduates consider most important, but they are also interested in data about the graduate labour market, which cannot always be derived reliably from MIMPACT responses. Users with a particular interest in the economic activity of graduates need to know whether graduates are employed – regardless of whether they consider employment to be their most important activity – and whether those who are not in work are looking for work or not – either because they are about to start a new job or course of study or because they are engaged in some other activity.

Providing more detail: XACTIVITY

For many of our analyses, we therefore use a derived activity variable we call XACTIVITY. XACTIVITY is based on a combination of MIMPACT and ALLACT responses, plus additional information on the intensity of work or study (i.e. whether it is full- or part-time) and whether a graduate is due to start work or further study. Using XACTIVITY allows us to provide more detail about graduate activities than would be possible if we relied on MIMPACT alone; XACTIVITY includes a category for graduates who are currently in both work and further study, distinguishes between full- and part-time work and study, and includes separate categories for currently unemployed graduates who are about to start work or further study. Full detail about how HESA produces the XACTIVITY variable can be found in our derived field specifications.

XACTIVITY also provides us with a consistent method for handling what may appear to be contradictory ALLACT and MIMPACT responses, so as to bring Graduate Outcomes employment data into closer alignment with national and international standards

For example, a graduate who has a paying job but is also looking for more or different work may select both ‘Paid work for an employer’ and ‘Unemployed and looking for work’ as responses to the ALLACT question.

A graduate working in a job unrelated to their degree subject while applying for jobs in their field – for example, a creative arts & design graduate working part-time in a coffee shop while applying for graphic design roles – may feel that their job search is more important than their current job and respond to MIMPACT with ‘Unemployed and looking for work’. This is a useful insight into how this graduate understands their activities, and it is a valid Graduate Outcomes response; a MIMPACT response of ‘Unemployed and looking for work’, however, will not reflect the fact that this graduate meets standard labour market definitions of employment. 

XACTIVITY therefore classifies graduates with this combination of MIMPACT and ALLACT responses as in paid work for an employer, helping to keep graduate employment data based on Graduate Outcomes data in line with standard definitions.

Variables are the spice of life

There are many ways to decide what counts as a graduate’s activity, and different methods will be more practical for different onward uses of Graduate Outcomes data.

For users who are interested in the range of activities which may be performed by individual graduates or in which kinds of activities are likely to go together for which graduates, ALLACT provides a snapshot of the complexity of graduate life 15 months after course completion. For those who want graduates’ own perspectives on which of their activities matter most, MIMPACT shows how graduates prioritise different activities.

While XACTIVITY is broadly based on MIMPACT, the addition of ALLACT and other fields allows us to derive a single variable which offers users both more detail on the types of work and study carried out by graduates and closer alignment with national and international definitions of employment activity.

Lucy Van Essen Fishman

Lucy Van Essen-Fishman

Lead Policy & Research Analyst