Just 72.2 per cent of graduates aged 26 or over from a Black African background are satisfied with their career three years after graduation.
This, according to new research from HESA drawing on the Longitudinal Destination of Leavers from Higher Education dataset (LDLHE), compares to 86.9 per cent of White graduates. There is also an identified 2.6 per cent gap between Black African and White graduates under 26.
A societal problem?
The study controls for a number of variables relating to individual background, and information about subject choice and degree outcome – derived via the connection of LDLHE with DLHE and the HESA Student Record for individuals. There are also controls based on the experience of a period of unemployment post graduation, and on activity six months after graduation (from DLHE).
Though there is a troubling documented difference in attainment between Black and White graduates, controlling for this still leaves a satisfaction gap – so we cannot simply assume that “better” degree results explain the difference in satisfaction. There are some remaining variables – it is possible for instance, that Black graduates have less opportunity for promotion, or that face personal or family difficulties that have an impact on career satisfaction.
The report also cites research that Black young people are less likely to have received careers information and advice than other ethnic groups. There’s evidence that Black students (particularly mature Black students) disproportionately study vocational subjects like nursing, social work, education, subjects allied to medicine, accounting, and law. There are also frequent reports that Black students report lower levels of satisfaction than their White peers.
It’s fair, I think, to argue that systemic issues in the graduate employment market could be a source of this detriment. But it’s clear that careers provision in particular, and educational provision more generally, require greater attention if this injustice is to be addressed.
What else affects career satisfaction?
As LDLHE is not a dataset we look at often on Wonkhe, I thought it was worth showing a few other aspects that may have an impact on career satisfaction. LDLHE does not show an ethnicity split by default – in the report we are directed to the Jisc Tailored Dataset service for further details.
There is a provider level impact, it would appear. We get a split by (circa 2015) mission group that I have not plotted, and by tariff group:
Notable there is that graduates from lower tariff providers have a slightly smaller chance of being satisfied, but a slightly higher chance of being very satisfied.
As alluded to in the report, there is a difference by subject of study:
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, a difference by graduate activity – with those presumed to be unemployed having markedly lower levels of job satisfaction. Though the report controls for previous experience of unemployment, it was not initially clear for me whether there was a control for current unemployment (at the point of the LDLHE) – it does, hidden away in appendix B .
The value of a degree
In recent years, thinking about the end point of higher education study has focused largely on salaries.
Whether absolute (“these are the top 10 subjects for earnings”) or against a baseline (“these are the subjects where you’d be better off not to take a degree”), for most of the last decade we’ve seen a focus on measurable financial benefits. Over the last year this has begun to shift towards concerns around the number of graduates in “highly skilled” roles, with numerous questions raised as to what “highly skilled” actually means.
Both these measures are problematic in terms of what they show, as has previously been discussed on Wonkhe many times – but both are also a limited examination of the benefits of a degree. The reflective questions in the new Graduate Outcomes data offer a look at one means by which graduates understand the work they are doing – but as yet data on the job satisfaction of graduates has not been collected.
Arguably, this is a key consideration. People take degrees at least partially in order to have careers that they are satisfied with. By looking at this aspect of graduate lives, this HESA research offers a valuable insight – knowing that, for instance, that more than 86 per cent of graduates were either fairly or very satisfied with their career three and a half years after graduation puts a very positive complexion on the value of university study.
This is, of course, old data – relating to (at latest) the 2016 opinions of the cohort that graduated in 2013. And it is a survey, so it is incomplete data compared to something like LEO. Career satisfaction is not currently collected as part of Graduate Outcomes. This report eloquently makes the case that it should.