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Why employment quality is important in graduate data

Graduate destinations need to focus on the quality of work, not just the job role and salary. Tej Nathwani explains what HESA is doing to address this
This article is more than 1 year old

Tej Nathwani is Principal Researcher at HESA

Why is HESA generating new data on employment quality?

It’s a question we have been asked on several occasions.

Historically, economists have focused on investigating individual employment outcomes through the lens of employee earnings. Meanwhile, the primary indicator used to assess the macroeconomy has been GDP. So, you would be forgiven for thinking monetary outcomes were all that mattered.

Beyond earnings

Times, however, are slowly changing. In particular, since the Great Recession, national policy has increasingly shifted towards focusing on wider wellbeing and quality/fair work. Naturally, this has also led to academics beginning to concentrate their efforts on examining these issues too. Most recently, researchers at LSE have examined labour market differentials based on ‘full earnings’ – a concept formed through taking into account both the monetary and non-pecuniary benefits of work.

Their analysis has produced some intriguing findings. For instance, when looking at “full earnings” by occupation among those with a degree (Figure A4 in the report above), we see that there are numerous professions where the “full earnings” bar is actually below the cross representing monetary earnings. This suggests that, while some of these positions may offer high wages, the non-monetary rewards are poor. Examples of this appear to arise within professional occupations among the legal and media industries, as well as associate professional and technical roles. The authors note that inequalities in labour market outcomes by gender and ethnicity are also larger based on “full earnings” rather than earnings alone.


In higher education as well, plenty of the analysis produced on graduate destinations (including some of our own) has been directed towards assessing the graduate premium. Exploration on this matter will continue to be important, given the substantial cost of studying for a degree – whether that be through the payment of tuition fees and/or the price of foregoing three/four years of paid work.

However, this is only one of a range of requirements from users of our data. Policymakers and providers in the sector continue to work to ensure that all can benefit from education. (Prospective) Students need data to help better inform their future occupation choices. Alongside promoting equality of opportunity, employers in the graduate labour market are seeking to develop effective graduate recruitment and retention strategies. The direction of policy and the change in what society perceives to be ‘good’ outcomes for the individual/wider economy is leading to greater demand for data on employment quality. The growing need for statistics in this area has also been highlighted by the Office for Statistics Regulation.

Measuring job quality

The Measuring Job Quality Working Group – formed following the Taylor Review on job quality – noted the importance of valuing both subjective and objective information on this matter. Administrative sources such as LEO cannot be the sole source of such information, with the Graduate Outcomes survey having a key role to play in supporting the collection of job quality data.

One of the communication suggestions made by the Working Group was to produce composite measures that reflect the different aspects of fair work. That is why we continue to invest time in developing a variable that captures one such component – the design and nature of our work. This measure is based on the three ‘graduate voice’ questions in the Graduate Outcomes survey relating to meaningful work, skill application and the extent to which a job fits with future plans. Some of these are also the types of non-monetary features of work that are commonly associated with higher full earnings.

So, what can statistics on fair work tell us about inequalities in the graduate labour market that we don’t currently know? What do they say about the quality of occupations on offer in different industries? These are exactly the sorts of questions we hope to shed light on through our future publications, as we look to ensure HESA’s outputs evolve in changing times.

Read HESA’s latest research publications and if you would like to be kept updated on the publication plans and latest research releases, please sign-up to our mailing list. To learn more about Graduate Outcomes, visit or view the latest national level official statistics.

Are there any particular statistics on our design and nature of work measure that you would like to see us produce? If so, please send these through to

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