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  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • Data sources
  • Defining the cohort for analysis
  • Trends in graduate numbers
  • Destinations of first-degree graduates
  • Annex A Cohort definitions
  • Annex B Using the Longitudinal DLHE survey
  • Annex C Extended tables - student and programme attributes
  • Annex D Response rates
  • Annex E Extended tables - destinations of graduates
  • Annex F Relationship between mode and salary
  • List of abbreviations

Executive summary


1.   This report describes the characteristics and patterns of progression of graduates from higher education within the UK, including salary data six and 40 months after graduation. It also provides information on the early careers of graduates and identifies what effect the choice of subject has on their early careers.

2.   It focuses on graduates of subjects which have been classified as strategically important and vulnerable. This report has been prepared to help meet recommendation 7.15 from Lord Sainsbury's review of science and innovation:

'To address the lack of information on the supply and demand of STEM skills, HEFCE should transform the Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subject Advisory Group into an Advisory Group on Graduate Supply and Demand and extend its remit to include responsibility for publishing an annual report describing: undergraduate subject trends; recent graduate jobs and salaries; and the subjects where employers and government departments believe that there are, or are likely shortly to be, shortages of graduates with key skills.'

Key points

Graduate trends

3.   Graduate numbers are increasing for all levels of qualification. For example the numbers qualifying with a first degree have increased by 13 per cent over the period 2002-03 to 2005-06 to 324,021. This compares with 19 per cent and 16 per cent growth over the same period for postgraduate taught and postgraduate research degrees: 184,801 and 21,026 qualifiers respectively.

4.   There has been little or no increase in the number of people graduating from programmes involving strategically important and vulnerable subjects, such as modern foreign languages or selected science disciplines, between 2002-03 and 2005-06. Strategically important and vulnerable subjects are those subjects that are of national importance, both now and in the future, and have a vulnerability such as a mismatch in supply and demand within higher education.

5.   The number of non-UK-domiciled graduates has increased at a greater rate than UK graduates between 2002-03 and 2005-06. Over the period 2002-03 to 2005-06, UK students graduating at degree level from UK higher education increased by 10 per cent to 274,728. This compared with 2 per cent growth in students from other EU countries (to 16,193) and 47 per cent growth in students from the rest of the world (to 33,100).

Graduate destinations

6.   Subjects that are directed towards a specific career and/or require a higher volume of learning than in most subjects (for example medicine) have a higher proportion of graduates in employment or in further study after six months in comparison to other subjects. Strategically important subjects generally have a lower percentage of graduates in employment or in further study after six months. When looking at employment outcomes three and a half years after graduation, all subject areas have a high percentage of graduates in employment or in further study (95 per cent or more).

7.   The majority of engineering graduates who were employed six months after graduation felt they had needed engineering as their subject area of qualification in order to gain their job. In contrast fewer graduates of modern foreign languages and area studies who were employed six months after graduating felt that they needed the subject in order to gain their job. A similar pattern is seen when considering employment three and a half years after graduation but the proportion who felt they needed the subject area is reduced for all subject areas.

8.   Of the strategically important subjects, engineering had the highest mean salary for employed graduates after six months. When considering employment three and a half years after graduating, modern foreign language graduates have the highest mean salary.

Action required

9.   No action is required in response to this document. 

Date: 1 October 2008

Ref: 2008/39

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Learning and teaching, Senior management, Planning

Enquiries should be directed to:

Mark Gittoes, tel 0117 931 7052, e-mail