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Building a future for graduate destinations

Data matters Destinations of Leavers Graduates

Behind every data point in HE data is an individual graduate Mary Stuart, Vice Chancellor at the University of Lincoln

In the words of Mary Stuart, Vice Chancellor at the University of Lincoln: ‘Behind every data point in HE data is an individual graduate’. This was the central message behind all the discussions at Wonkhe and HESA’s collaborative event on the future of DLHE, held on 4 July.

The event, ‘Building a future for graduate destinations’, was attended by over 170 representatives from across the higher education (HE) sector, including a diverse mix of HE providers, sector bodies and research organisations, among others.

The speakers and panel sessions, combined with an engaged audience asking considered questions, covered a great deal of areas in the graduate destinations debate. I won’t go into detail on every speaker and panel session as Wonkhe covered this with their excellent live blog on the day.

There were some key takeaway messages for me though:

1. Graduates are more than their salary or the Social Occupational Classification (SOC) code of their job.

There are many reasons to commend the current DLHE survey.

There are many reasons to commend the current DLHE survey. It is an annual census survey that gets response rates that astonish those unfamiliar with the survey. It also provides a picture of what graduates go on to do after study, and how this has changed over time. However, a number of speakers and audience contributors highlighted that it only shows a narrow picture of graduate success to date.

The two main data fields which are used to present ‘graduate success’ are SOC code groups 1-3 (which are classed as professional occupations) and the salaries earned by graduates (salary data is provided for a minimum of 50% of respondents). Liz Bromley, Registrar & Secretary at Goldsmiths, highlighted Goldsmiths alumni who have won the Turner Prize, Mercury Prize and BAFTAs but who, by these fields, wouldn’t be classified as ‘successful’. This brings home just how difficult it is to tell the story of graduate destinations using these limited factors, as well as the benefit of considering additional measures. Terry Dray, Director of Graduate Advancement at LJM University, suggested that finding a way to let graduates define whether they had been successful or not would allow these stories to shine through.

A wider set of measures would allow graduates to have a better basis for decision making.

James Evans, Senior Research Manager at CFE Research, presented evidence that this simplistic categorisation of graduate success does not benefit prospective students. Research shows that prospective student’s decision making is much more nuanced than just what they will earn after graduation. A wider set of measures would allow graduates to have a better basis for decision making.

2. Challenges currently faced in the graduate labour market are not going to go away

One of the four key aims of the NewDLHE review is future-proofing. We are forecasting the graduate destination data that will be required beyond 2020. This was reiterated by discussions of the graduate labour market at this event. Charlie Ball, Head of HE Intelligence at Graduate Prospects, covered the immediate challenges faced in a post-Brexit world, with predictions of the labour market entering a recessionary state. He also covered the ongoing challenges in the graduate labour market, with particular sectors struggling to recruit sufficient numbers of graduates despite more graduates than ever entering the workforce. This draws attention to the debate around skills, and the tension between the skills held by graduates and skills employers are looking for, and how we identify these. Should NewDLHE address this through incorporation of a skills framework? Responses welcome through questions 74-76 of the consultation.

We are forecasting the graduate destination data that will be required beyond 2020.

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3. There are many stakeholders, but they all share some similarities

One of the side effects of having such a diverse audience was the contrasting perspectives that stakeholders have on graduate destinations. However, whilst the debate was open and broad ranging, there were some areas which stood out as starting to find some common ground at the event.

The first was the shared interest in comprehensive, good quality data on graduate destinations. The message received from both the speakers and audience was that graduate destinations information is hugely valuable information, and the benefit of this process is to understand how this can become even more useful for stakeholders. The sense of a shared interest in being able to demonstrate the impact of HE on wider society was felt in the room.

The sense of a shared interest in being able to demonstrate the impact of HE on wider society was felt in the room.

Similarly, there was a sense of shared interest in demonstrating the benefit of telling these wider stories about people behind the data, despite the challenges faced in collecting data about this in a quantifiable manner. We cannot control what data will be picked up and used by all users of the data, but there is benefit in providing a richer picture of graduate success than currently available.

Speakers and audience members generally expressed a desire to have data later.

From a practical standpoint, there was some consensus about the timing of the NewDLHE survey. Speakers and audience members generally expressed a desire to have data later, whether this be around 12 months, 18 months or later. The evidence shows that by this point graduates are more likely to be on their desired career path. However, they may be more difficult to contact, and response rates could fall below the current high levels which makes the data so useful. Charlie Ball provided a helpful reminder that there is no right answer in this debate: there are pros and cons of all survey timings. So while there is benefit in reconsidering this, the purpose should be to find the timing that works best for as many purposes as possible, rather than the perfect time.

Have your voice heard

It will be interesting to see how these debates feed into the consultation responses. Whether you align with these views, or have an alternative perspective, make sure your voice is heard by responding to the NewDLHE consultation closing at 23:59 on Thursday 14 July 2016.

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Rachel Hewitt

Rachel Hewitt

Data Policy & Governance Manager