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Career progression of graduates

Key findings published today from the HESA Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) Longitudinal Survey

Analysis of data from the first ever HESA follow-up (Longitudinal) survey of leavers from higher education institutions reveals that, three years after they were first surveyed, the percentage of graduates in full-time paid employment had reached 74% (up from 57% when first surveyed). 6% of graduates were in part-time paid work only (7% when first surveyed).

The level of unemployment during the same period had dropped from 5% to 2%.

Overall 80% of employed graduates were reported as working in jobs classified as ‘graduate' occupations. This compares with 71% of employed graduates in ‘graduate' occupations when first surveyed three years previously. Those with postgraduate qualifications were most likely to be in ‘graduate' occupations (93%), with first degree qualifiers at 77% and other undergraduate qualifiers at 74%.

The proportion of graduates in ‘further study only' had fallen from 14% at the Early Survey to 5% at the Longitudinal Survey. However many graduates were still combining work with further study (9% compared to 11% when first surveyed)

Destinations of graduates (Longitudinal survey)

Destinations of Graduates (Longitudinal)

The analysis, undertaken for HESA by the National Centre for Social Research, provides a rich insight into the employment patterns of leavers three and a half years into their careers. The data in this analysis is based on Longitudinal Survey responses from 24,825 graduates from the 2002/03 graduating cohort. These 24,825 graduates were the respondents from a sample of around 62,000 (20% of those who responded to the earlier survey) selected to provide a representative set of information. These graduates were previously surveyed approximately six months after gaining their qualification.


Women were more likely to be working part-time than men at every level, regardless of their mode of study and qualification. For example among the other undergraduate qualifiers, 20% of female part-time qualifiers were working part-time compared to 2% of men. The difference between the proportion of men and women working part-time was the smallest amongst full-time first degree qualifiers where 5% and 3% of women and men worked part-time, respectively.


For all ethnic groups, the most likely activity reported was full-time work, followed by part-time work or a form of study. The main differences in activities were seen between graduates of Black origin and those of Asian or White origin. Asian and White graduates were more likely than Black graduates to be in full-time work (75% of Asian graduates and 74% of White graduates compared with 67% of Black graduates). Black graduates were marginally more likely to be studying (16%) than White (14%) or Asian (13%) graduates. Black graduates were also more likely to be assumed unemployed (5%) than White (2%) or Asian (4%) graduates. White graduates were less likely to be assumed unemployed than all other ethnic groups.

Salary levels

The median salary of UK domiciled graduates who were working full-time at the Longitudinal Survey stage was £23,000 (see note 4). Graduates with postgraduate qualifications had the highest median salary (£28,000) followed by first degree (£22,000) and other undergraduate (£20,000) graduates.

UK domiciled full-time graduates who obtained first degree qualifications in full-time paid work by salary band and gender

The median salary of full-time first degree male graduates was £1,000 higher than that of equivalent female graduates and, as the above chart shows, a higher proportion of men were in higher paid work.

Salary levels


One of the new aspects of the Longitudinal Survey is a set of questions relating to graduates' satisfaction with their study choices and career to date. Analysis of the results of these questions reveals that three and a half years after graduating 85% of 2002/03 graduates were either ‘very satisfied' or ‘fairly satisfied' with their careers to date. The majority, should they choose their courses again, indicated they would not change the subject, HE institution nor the qualification level, with 69%, 75%, and 74% respectively indicating a different choice would be either 'not very likely' or 'not likely at all'.

Overall satisfaction with career to date

 Overall satisfaction with career to date

Female graduates were slightly more likely than male graduates to be ‘very satisfied' with their careers (40% of females compared with 34% of males), although the proportions who were ‘very' or ‘fairly' satisfied were not significantly different (86% of females and 85% of males).

Black graduates were less likely than White or Asian graduates to be satisfied with their career to date. Just under three-quarters (73%) of Black graduates described themselves as ‘very' or ‘fairly' satisfied compared with 86% of White graduates and 83% of Asian graduates.

Notes for Editors

  1. The two-part Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey replaced the previous First Destinations Supplement (FDS) for 2002/03. Up until now only the first phase of the survey (Early DLHE), which captures graduate activity at a point about six months after completion of study, had been implemented, and this is the first set of data available at the follow-up phase (Longitudinal Survey).
  2. Data collection was undertaken on HESA's behalf by IFF Research Ltd.
  3. The DLHE Longitudinal Survey was co-funded by Higher Education Funding Council for England, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Scottish Funding Council, Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland, Training and Development Agency for Schools, Department of Health and Research Councils UK.
  4. Prior to any analysis of the graduates' salary levels the reported salaries were examined to identify any outliers. As a result employed graduates who reported salaries under £1,000 and over £600,000 were not included in the analyses of salary.
  5. Differences between subgroups that are reported are statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.
  6. There were 412,580 qualifiers in the 2002/03 cohort and 312,170 of these responded to the Early DLHE Survey.
  7. Base numbers shown in charts have been rounded to the nearest 5. Base numbers reflect numbers of graduates who answered particular questions in the survey, hence these may differ between charts.
  8. Percentages in charts and tables are rounded to the nearest whole percent, therefore percentages may not sum to exactly 100%.
  9. Further research is underway that will establish comparisons between the results of the DLHE Longitudinal Survey and the ONS Labour Force Survey. The results of this research will be published in due course.
  10. Press enquiries should be directed to:
  11. HESA cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the data by third parties.


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