A positive outcome? Steps towards a new DLHE

This week marks the next key stage in the review of graduate destinations and outcomes information. HESA has published the synthesis of consultation responses as well as the reports of two research projects, generously funded by HEFCE to support the review.

Approach to the review

The Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey is the second biggest survey after the census and one of the most in demand datasets held by HESA. The scale of the task of reviewing this dataset was not underestimated when we began back in summer 2015.

Four aims were identified to steer our work:

  • Future proofing, considering the kinds of data that will be required for the foreseeable future
  • Improving efficiency, by utilising opportunities such as linked data sources and advanced survey technology
  • Ensuring the data collection methodology is still fit-for-purpose in new and emerging contexts
  • Supporting legislation by taking into account recent and emerging legislative developments

Two review groups are tasked with achieving these aims: the strategic group, whose role is to agree the remit for the review and the high-level proposals, and the working group, who are tasked with advising on the detail of the design and developing proposals for consultation.

As well as the involvement of the review groups, we were keen to get as much input from those who have an interest in graduate destinations data, to give a robust basis for designing the replacement to DLHE. This need for detailed feedback lead to a rather lengthy consultation, with 128 questions to answer. We received over 200 responses from a range of organisations, including higher education providers, employer organisations and student unions.

During this consultation period we also joined forces with Wonkhe to host a conference exploring some of the debates over graduate destinations. Attendees debated topics such as the future of the labour market, what graduate success looks like, and how destinations information is used by students. There were some clear themes amongst both the speakers and audience at this event: that graduate success is more than their salary or occupation classification; that the current challenges faced in the graduate labour market are not likely to go away; and the desire for comprehensive quality data on graduate destinations.

Since the consultation closed, we’ve been reading and analysing the responses. The full detail of what we’ve learnt can be found in the consultation synthesis, but the headline areas were around data linking, survey topics, the timing of the survey and centralisation.

Data linking

One of the four aims of the review is to support legislation. This includes the Small Business Enterprise and Employment (SBEE) Act 2015 which allows for linking of HMRC/DWP data with education data, and can therefore provide graduates’ salary information. We asked in the consultation whether we should be utilising this and other forms of linked data. The vast majority of responses stated that we should be using this linked data to avoid asking graduates for information we can obtain from other sources.

With the potential of using this linked data, we asked in the consultation whether we still needed to survey graduates or whether we could get sufficient information through linked data. Respondents nearly unanimously stated that we still need a survey to obtain contextual information about what graduates have gone on to do. There was also consensus that this would need to remain a census survey, as opposed to using samples of graduates.

Survey topics

Similarly, when asking about the high-level areas we should be looking into, there was agreement on the areas we should retain and that we should supplement these with some additional measures of graduate outcomes. It was proposed that we keep surveying graduates on areas such as employment, further study, questions on regulated professions (such as teaching), and a graduate’s ‘preparedness’ for future activity. The additional measures we proposed – such as skills or net promoter score – had more mixed responses. We will need to work with the review groups to work out whether these new measures will be incorporated in the survey.

Survey timing and centralisation

Unsurprisingly, not all issues were as unanimously agreed upon as these. Questions around when and how the survey is run received more mixed responses.

The consultation asked whether there should be one or more surveys of graduate destinations. Respondents were generally in favour of one survey point, however just over a third of respondents indicated that they would prefer multiple surveys. This makes us question whether a single survey point would meet users’ requirements, and is something which we are exploring with the review groups.

Similarly, the question of when to survey graduates received a range of responses. Respondents raised points in favour of a range of different survey timings. However, the majority of responses were in favour of moving away from the current six-month survey point to somewhere between 12 and 18 months, in order to allow graduates time to enter or progress in their career path.

As well as the timing of the survey, the consultation about changing the methods of running the survey. Respondents were asked to consider whether a centralised methodology could provide more robust results by increasing consistency in the data collection. The responses received were mixed, with marginally more respondents in favour of moving to a central system, and many respondents making detailed points in support of their position. We will be exploring this further with the review groups to inform decisions in this area, and to ensure we create the kind of robust data source that can be used for high-profile public information purposes.

Commissioned research reports

HESA commissioned two research reports with generous support from HEFCE, which were published alongside the consultation synthesis. CFE Research’s report on ‘What do good outcomes from HE look like’ considers how good outcomes are defined for a range of stakeholders including students and graduates, higher education providers, employers, society and the state. Warwick Institute for Employment Research’s report on ‘Richer student views’ was put together through focus groups where students and graduates were asked to consider what they wanted to gain from HE, particularly focusing on career and personal development.

We’ll be using these research reports along with the detailed findings from the consultation to design the model for the replacement to DLHE, Information about the membership of the review groups and their meeting papers are available here. Towards the end of this year we’ll be opening the second consultation to allow for your feedback on the proposal we’re developing. We’ll then be using these responses to finalise the business case and implementation plan.

Join the conversation on twitter using #NewDLHE

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