Graduate Outcomes in a post Covid-19 world

HESA's Graduate Outcomes survey is finally out. Charlie Ball thinks through what the results say about the future for the graduate labour market.

The highly anticipated Graduate Outcomes survey is finally out, showing the destinations of graduates from the 2017/18 academic year 15 months after they left university.

The headline figures are: 71 per cent of graduates were in employment, 10 per cent were combining employment and further study, 9 per cent were in further study and 5 per cent were unemployed. Those reporting that they were in skilled employment were 76 per cent.

These are very similar to the figures reported in the survey’s predecessor – Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Survey – from 2016/17, as it happens.

Our colleagues at HESPA have already given a handy rundown of some of the context of the survey, and there’s a wealth of information on the HESA site with more to come next week.

Relevance

Of course, in a post Covid-19 world, the question arises of how relevant all of this is.

The jobs market, like the rest of the economy has been highly disrupted by pandemic. As we know, UK GDP fell 10.4 per cent in the three months to April, with a 20.4 per cent fall in April, according to the ONS.

The ONS themselves are cautious on the actual detail of the figures – capturing accurate data is really tough right now – but there is no doubt April saw the largest monthly GDP drop on record. But most of that is due to a sharp fall in the service sector, with the accommodation and food sector seeing a 40.9 per cent drop in GDP over the three months, and the crucially important retail sector falling by 14.5 per cent.

Events are moving rapidly and it is not always easy to separate the signal of genuine data from the incessant noise of seemingly everyone having strong opinions on everything all the time. But there are a number of high quality organisations striving to enlighten us on the state of the labour market right now.

And it is beginning to become clear that much of the economic damage is happening to largely non-graduate sections of the economy and that many crucial areas of the graduate labour market are at least quietly coping.

Hit hard

Some parts of the graduate economy have been particularly affected. The arts have been badly hit, and the damage may be lasting. Self-employment and freelancing have also taken a really severe hit with many in this sector seeing billable hours cut very dramatically in a short space of time – and this is a potential big issue for HE’s entrepreneurship agenda.

A good deal of the impact of the pandemic on the graduate labour market so far, in business services and tech especially, has been less on whether individuals are working or not and more on how they are working.

For these groups, whose jobs and mode of working may undergo significant change as a consequence of Covid-19, the Graduate Outcomes data establishes a kind of reference baseline to the economy as it was, and allows us to map those contours and to examine if, when and how the labour market returns to its previous state and where it diverges. And the richness of the fine-grained detail as that emerges will be where the real value lies for IAG professionals, for admissions, for the planning community and for policy professionals.

Post-pandemic, students will still graduate from university, they will still go into the labour market, and they will mainly do similar things that graduates did pre-pandemic, albeit often in different ways.

Tracking changes

Indeed the next few surveys will be invaluable in tracking how the economy changes in the wake of the social and economic disruption of Covid-19. In a few years we may well look back and be grateful that the survey began where it did – a new broom for outcomes data for a new working landscape.

Graduate Outcomes is a great achievement from HESA and by a lot of dedicated people from diverse parts of the HE landscape and it will be well worth the time and effort over the next few years.

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