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Why we ask you to reflect in Graduate Outcomes

HESA's Data and Innovation team explain the reasons behind some of the questions in the Graduate Outcomes survey

By Tej Nathwani, Siobhan Donnelly, Stephanie McLean and Jerry Bond

Next month, on 20 and 27 July 2021, HESA will be releasing the second suite of outputs relating to the Graduate Outcomes survey and we would like to express our thanks to all those who participated over the past year.

Currently, we are surveying graduates who qualified in the academic year 2019/20. Whether you have received your invitation to take part or not, you may be wondering not only what the survey is about, but also why we ask certain questions and how we use that information.

Consequently, while we have previously highlighted why it is important to complete the survey, we want to take this opportunity to explain the reasons behind some of the questions that are included in two separate sections of the survey, which may not appear obvious at first glance.

Your employment: A matter of detail

As the survey is about outcomes, we ask for quite detailed information on your current employment, such as your job role, main duties and the employer you work for. Given the huge variety of jobs that graduates will find themselves in after completing their studies, it is essential for analysts and policymakers exploring the impact of higher education to consolidate this data in a useful way. Using the details you provide on your employment, we allocate you a Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code, which indicates the type of occupation you are working in. We also use your employment information to identify the sector of the economy in which you are contributing your skills by assigning you with a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code. These SIC and SOC codes may then be aggregated further, depending on the type of analysis being conducted. For example, SOC codes may be used to group workers into one of nine categories, based on the level of skills and qualifications needed to perform the role.

Chart 1: The occupations and industries in which graduates are working 15 months after completing their qualification

Academic year 2017/18


Having this information allows:

  • Government and policymakers to identify the parts of the economy where graduates are contributing their skills and knowledge – both now and over time.
  • Prospective and current students to understand which sectors and occupations are most likely to employ graduates (see, for example, tables 2 and 3 of the What do Graduates Do? report or the Discover Uni website).
  • Careers advisers and employers to examine the current and evolving nature of the graduate labour market.

Reflecting on your activity - giving graduates a voice

We recognise that the outcomes of higher education for graduates are not only financial or necessarily solely about employment. Many of you will have undertaken study to pursue your career ambitions or due to interest in a subject. This fact is also appreciated by policymakers across the UK, who want graduates to have the opportunity to achieve personal fulfilment in their lives, as well as to be equipped with skills that can boost productivity and economic growth. It is for this reason that we encourage survey participants to reflect on their activity and highlight the extent to which they agree with the below statements:

  • My current activity is meaningful
  • My current activity fits with my future plans
  • I am utilising what I learnt during my studies in my current activity

Achieving fulfilment is likely to require undertaking activities that provide a sense of purpose. Consequently, we not only ask you about whether your present activity aligns with your longer-term ambitions, but to also make a subjective judgement about the extent to which this activity is of personal significance and meaning to you.

How might this data be used and why?

Your answers to these questions can be used in a variety of ways, including in combination with your responses to the employment section of the survey. For example, it could be drawn upon by:

  • Organisations like HESA in examining the types of occupations that graduates find fulfilling and meet their career aims. We can then communicate these findings to prospective students and graduates, who may be looking to make choices about their future study plans or employment pathway.
  • Graduate employers who want to evaluate how graduates feel about the types of jobs being offered within their sector.
  • Policymakers who want to assess the impact that public funding of higher education has on both students and wider society.

Chart 2: Graduate perceptions on their work by occupation and industry

Academic year 2017/18


Our mission at HESA is to collect and subsequently release data in a manner that can advance understanding within society about higher education. We do so to help present and future students and graduates make informed choices, but also assist our other users (such as government, education providers and employers) with their planning and decision making. Our ability to do this rests on graduates like yourselves not only participating in the survey, but also providing accurate information to the various questions we ask within it. It is this that enables us and others to produce the types of analysis displayed in the charts and improve our knowledge about the impact of study.

Want to know more?

We hope this blog has provided an insight into the motivation behind some of the questions we pose. To find out more about the survey, please visit the Graduate Outcomes website. To see more of the Open Data and official statistics we publish from the survey, see the HESA website. The first release of data from the 2018/19 Graduate Outcomes survey will be published on 20 July 2021.

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Data and Innovation team