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Definitions: Graduate Outcomes

The following definitions relate to our Graduate Outcomes survey. Commencing with the 2017/18 graduate cohort, the Graduate Outcomes survey has replaced the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. Due to fundamental differences in the survey design, data collection methods and survey reference periods, Graduate Outcomes data is not comparable to DLHE data.


Graduate Outcomes collects information about the activities and perspectives of graduates approximately 15 months after they complete their HE studies.

Graduates are split into four cohorts depending on the date that they completed their studies. Each cohort covers a three-month span of the graduating academic year:

  • August – October
  • November – January
  • February – April
  • May – July

Graduates in each cohort are asked about activities that relate to a seven-day census week occurring approximately 15 months after the study completion period. For example, the 2017/18 survey (C17071), followed the following pattern:

  • Cohort A contains graduates who completed their studies from 1 August 2017 – 31 October 2017. These were surveyed between December 2018 and February 2019, with the questions stating the census week as the first week in December 2018.
  • Cohort B contains graduates who completed their studies from 1 November 2017 – 31 January 2018. These were surveyed between March 2019 and May 2019, with the questions stating the census week as the first week in March 2019.
  • Cohort C contains graduates who completed their studies from 1 February 2018 – 30 April 2018. These were surveyed between June 2019 and August 2019, with the questions stating the census week as the first week in June 2019.
  • Cohort D contains graduates who completed their studies from 1 May 2018 – 31 July 2018. These were surveyed between September 2019 and November 2019, with the questions stating the census week as the first week in September 2019.

Graduates awarded multiple qualifications which fall into different cohort periods within the academic year, are surveyed multiple times; with each survey relating to the specific qualification obtained within the relevant study-completion period.



The survey includes graduates who achieved their higher education qualifications from Higher Education providers in the UK, and from Further Education colleges (FECs) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Graduate Outcomes target population contains all graduates from higher education reported to HESA (and reported to the Individualised Learner Record for graduates from FECs in England and to the Consolidated Data Return for graduates from FECs in Northern Ireland) as obtaining relevant higher education qualifications during the reporting period 01 August to 31 July, and whose study was full-time or part-time (including sandwich students and those writing-up theses).

Awards from dormant status are only included in the target population for postgraduate research students. Relevant qualifications exclude intercalated degrees, awards to visiting students, students on post-registration health and social care courses, and professional qualifications for serving school teachers.

Full details of the coverage, inclusion of HE-level students at Further Education providers, and criteria for exclusion can be found on the Coverage of the Record page accessible from the Graduate Outcomes Survey Results links of our Data collection page.


Eligible Graduate Outcomes population includes higher education graduates identified in the HESA Student and AP Student records, the Individualised Learner Record and the Consolidated Data Return that met criteria within the Graduate Outcomes target population based on location of study, mode of study, end date of instance and qualification awarded. Those graduates reported by their provider to have died or to be seriously ill, are removed from the target population.

Known outcomes includes graduates within the eligible Graduate Outcomes population who replied to the Graduate Outcomes survey with a complete or partial response.

Non-respondents include all those who did not respond to the survey, including those who refused to take part. It also includes those who started the survey but did not sufficiently complete the first two questions, which are used to determine current activity status.

Completed responses are those in in which the graduate completed all the compulsory questions specified in their question route.

Partially completed responses are those in which the graduate did not complete all the compulsory questions specified in their question route, having completed the first two questions, which discuss activities.

Response rate is the number of responses expressed as a percentage of the eligible Graduate Outcomes population.


For data protection reasons we implement a strategy in published and released tabulations designed to prevent the disclosure of personal information about any individual. This strategy involves rounding all numbers to the nearest multiple of 5 and suppressing percentages and averages based on small populations.

HESA Standard Rounding Methodology:

  1. All numbers are rounded to the nearest multiple of 5
  2. Any number lower than 2.5 is rounded to 0
  3. Halves are always rounded upwards (e.g. 2.5 is rounded to 5)
  4. Percentages based on fewer than 22.5 individuals are suppressed
  5. Averages based on 7 or fewer individuals are suppressed
  6. The above requirements apply to headcounts, FPE and FTE data
  7. Financial data is not rounded

Total figures are also subject to this rounding methodology after calculation; so the sum of numbers in each row or column may not match the total shown. Suppressed values are normally represented as '..' in published tables.

This methodology is sometimes referred to as the HESA Services Standard Rounding Methodology, HESA’s Rounding Methodology or the Heidi Plus Rounding Methodology depending on the context of the reference. These names all refer to the same methodology described here.

For more information on the rounding methodology, including worked examples and instructions on how to apply rounding, please see Rounding and suppression to anonymise statistics.

HESA provides higher education providers (HEPs) with the opportunity to make post-collection amendments to a dataset through the fixed database facility. The fixed database collection opens following the closure of the corresponding live data collection, and remains open for between 6 and 15 months, depending on the data stream; typically longer for the Student record and shorter for other collections. Onward use of information whilst it remains open (for example in HESA open data) will normally be based on the original data collected and not on any amended data submitted through the fixed database facility. Onward use of information after closure of a fixed database will usually be based on the fixed data. For further information about the changes please contact us via [email protected].

Graduates report what they were doing during the census week in relation to employment, study  and other activities. The activities the graduates are asked about are:

  • Paid work for an employer.
  • Self-employment/freelancing.
  • Running their own business.
  • Developing a creative, artistic or professional portfolio.
  • Voluntary/unpaid work for an employer.
  • Engaged in a course of study, training or research.
  • Taking time out to travel - this does not include short-term holidays.
  • Caring for someone (unpaid).
  • Retired.
  • Unemployed and looking for work.
  • Doing something else.

Most important activity: If graduates select more than one activity from the above list, they are then asked to indicate which activity they considered to be their most important during the census week.   

Employment versus Work: The term “paid employment” is used across the Graduate Outcomes discussions to indicate that the graduate is working for pay, whether paid by an employer or self-employed. “Work” is used where voluntary and unpaid work are also included. 

Work population marker:  The ‘work population marker’ allows you to view data either based on all graduates who report one or more work-based activities, or alternatively to focus on those graduates who state that a work-based activity is their most important activity.

Whether you choose to use data for graduates where work is an activity or focus on just those where work is a most important activity will depend on your intended use for the statistics.

Work type marker: This allows the selection of work type for instances where work is identified as the most important activity. When used as a filter on tables that also have the work population filter, it will only be available when the work population marker is selected correspondingly.

Age is as at 31 July of the reporting period (the end of the academic year in which the graduate gained their relevant qualification).

With any given sample, some uncertainty exists. Indeed, repeated samples of the same population (keeping size and design fixed) may produce different estimates.

Confidence intervals highlight the range in which one believes, with a high degree of likelihood, that the ‘true’ population parameter falls. Graduate Outcomes is an annual survey of those who graduated in a specific academic year from a higher education course delivered in the UK. Thus, if we generate 95% confidence intervals for certain estimates in the resulting sample, one would interpret that as illustrating that there is 95% probability that the interval contains the ‘true’ population parameter.

For example, a category proportion presented as 31% (24% - 38%) indicates that the estimate from the sample was 31%, with a 95% probability that the ‘true’ population proportion lies between 24% and 38%. The width of the confidence interval gives some idea about how precise an estimated value is: the wider the range from the stated percentage, the less the precision.

Our Graduate data methodology pages provide additional information about the methodologies adopted, including those for data analysis



Domicile relates to the location of the graduate prior to the start of their course from which they have graduated.

For higher education providers (including publicly funded higher education institutions and alternative providers) and further education colleges in Wales, domicile data are taken from the HESA Student and AP Student records.

For further education colleges (FECs) in England and Northern Ireland domicile data are taken respectively from data provided by the OfS from the Individualised Learner Record and data provided by DfE(NI) from the Consolidated Data Return (CDR). In both data sources there are two options to define region of domicile; either via UK postcodes or via information at the UK / Other EU / Non-EU / Not known level. For some graduates, valid UK postcodes are reported for domicile in one field, and in another field reporting domicile information at the UK / Other EU / Non-EU / Not known level the same graduates are reported to have a domicile location outside of the UK. In 2017/18 this affected approximately 290 graduates from FECs in England and 45 graduates from FECs in Northern Ireland. HESA data releases use domicile data for the purpose of locating graduates into (domicile) regions of the UK and therefore prioritise domicile location based on postcode information in the first instance. Where a valid UK postcode is not available, information from the dataset at the level of UK / Other EU / Non-EU / Not known is then taken. At this stage, anyone identified as domiciled from the UK (and without a valid UK postcode) is grouped into ‘Other UK’.

The Graduate Outcomes data releases are published as experimental statistics and we are continuing to explore the quality of the underlying data. We welcome feedback on the approach taken with domicile data.

This describes the graduate’s own assessment of the basis of their employment in the work they were doing for an employer during the census week. For graduates who had more than one job, the information captured relates to the employment activity the graduate considered to be their main job.



Location of the employment during the census week.

Graduates who report to be running their own business during the census week are asked the source of the business or company funding before or during the census week. Graduates can select multiple options from:

  • Self/family
  • Crowdfunding
  • Loan
  • Venture Capital
  • University business incubation
  • Other


Graduates are asked the extent to which they agree or disagree that their current activities:

  • Fit in with their future plans.
  • Are meaningful.
  • Utilise what they have learnt during their studies.

Tables presenting this data allow filtering by activity.


Significant interim study indicates that a graduate has commenced additional full-time study in between completing their course and the survey census week. This includes full-time study for: undergraduate certificates, diploma and degrees; post graduate certificates and diplomas, higher degrees (such as MSc, MBA and PhD); and professional qualifications. Graduates record their interim study even if it is still ongoing or not complete.

An interim study filter for some tables allows graduates with interim study to be included or excluded. This might be beneficial in some analyses, such as investigating unemployment.


The mode of former study refers to the mode of the qualification obtained. Graduates are classified as full-time or part-time according to the “Applicable to HESA qualifications obtained population” definition in the Mode of study / qualification obtained section of the Student Definitions.

HESA Graduate Outcomes data releases allow data to be filtered by provider type; giving options for higher education providers (HEPs) and further education colleges (FECs).

Higher Education Providers

Higher education providers include all UK publicly funded higher education institutions (HEIs) and alternative providers (APs) for whom student data is submitted to HESA. Note that FECs in Wales are included in the coverage of the HESA student record, but are excluded from this group in the Graduate Outcomes data releases.

Further Education Colleges

Higher education graduates from further education colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are included in this group. Higher education graduates from FECs in Scotland are excluded from the population.


This field describes whether the HE graduate's qualification was necessary in gaining the job they were doing during the census week.

Salary data is collected for those graduates who state that they are in paid work for an employer and/or self-employment/freelancing. It describes the annual pay (before tax) of the graduate’s main employment during census week. This is not a mandatory question, and the salaries are self-reported by the graduates.

Removal of salary outliers

Following analysis of salary data, which was suggestive of data quality issues, HESA have taken the decision to exclude salary outliers from published statistics.

At the lower extreme of the salary range, graduates who reported an annual salary calculated to be below the UK national minimum wage for those aged 21-24 pertaining to the census period are removed. This is based on the assumption that a full-time graduate would be working 30 hours, 52 weeks of the year. 

  • For the 2017/18 graduates, the April 2018 - March 2019 minimum wage of £7.38 per hour was used, resulting in a lower cut-off of salaries below £11,513.

At the upper extreme of the salary range, salaries have been excluded as follows: 

  • In 2017/18: graduates reporting a salary of £73,000 or higher. This followed analysis of the distribution of graduates not excluded by the lower wage cut-off and accounts for the top 1.5% of salaries.

More information on salary data and outliers is available in the dissemination policy.

Salary presentation

For the majority of analyses, salary is restricted to graduates in full-time UK employment where the currency paid is British pounds (and excludes unpaid/voluntary work).

Salary band describes the annual salary for graduates grouped into £3000 bands, excluding outliers and those that returned a zero salary.

Mean salary is the sum of salaries divided by the number of graduates. Salary outliers, and graduates with zero or unknown salary are excluded. Please note, means based on a population of 7 or fewer graduates will be suppressed.

Median salary and quartiles are calculated and displayed to the nearest £500. Salary outliers, and graduates with a zero or unknown salary are excluded. Please note, medians based on a population of 7 or fewer graduates will be suppressed, and quartiles based on a population of 14 or fewer graduates will also be suppressed.



The Standard Industrial Classification of economic activities (SIC) provides a framework for the collection, tabulation, presentation and analysis of data about economic activities.

The aggregations reflect the Standard Industrial Classification economic activity sections as summarised in the UK Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activities 2007 (SIC 2007) document on the National Statistics website.

Standard industry codes for economic activity are used to describe the relationship between the inputs and outputs of such activity. In cases where multiple activities take place, classification usually relates to the single most important activity. In the case of Graduate Outcomes statistics, this will usually be the most important activity undertaken by an employer (or self-employed person). Economic activities are measured by enquiring into the nature of an employer's (or self-employed person's) business.


The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) is a common classification of occupational information for the UK, and is maintained by the Office for National Statistics. The SOC classifies jobs into nine major groups, which can in turn be split into a subgroup hierarchy. Major groups are distinguished by the level of skill and experience required to perform the activities associated with a job; within each major group, occupations are organised according to the type of work performed.

Skill category: Jobs can be classified into groups according to concepts such as ‘skill level’ and ‘skill specialisation’, which consider aspects such as duration of training, work experience required to perform the activities, and the knowledge required to conduct the tasks.

This classification adopted for Graduate Outcomes follows that adopted in releases by the Department for Education and Office for National Statistics. SOC major groups 1 to 3 are classified as high skill, major groups 4 to 6 are classified as medium skill, major groups 7 to 9 are classified as low skill.

The subjective wellbeing of graduates is measured using the questions, guidelines and threshold categorisations of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) personal well-being measures, frequently called the ONS4. These comprise four questions measured on an eleven-point scale, where 0 is “not at all” and 10 is “completely”:

  1. Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  2. Overall, to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
  3. Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
  4. On a scale where 0 is “not at all anxious” and 10 is “completely anxious”, overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

The responses to these questions are categorised as follows:

Life satisfaction, worthwhile, happiness (Questions 1-3 above)



0 to 4


5 to 6


7 to 8

Very High

9 to 10


Anxiety (Question 4 above)


Very Low

0 to 1


2 to 3


4 to 5


6 to 10

This records whether the graduate’s work was full time or part time.

In HESA data releases, where graduates stated a work related activity was their most important activity, the corresponding intensity for that work is taken. Among other graduates, work intensity is taken firstly from any paid work for an employer, followed by intensity of any self-employment activity, then any voluntary/unpaid work for an employer and lastly any activity of running their own business or developing a portfolio.