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New HEFCE evidence shows that three-and-a-half years after leaving university 96.4 per cent of graduates were in employment and nearly 80 per cent were employed in professional jobs [Note 1] or undertaking further study.

This latest research [Note 2] takes a unique look at graduate employment outcomes by linking the three-and-a-half year outcomes of individual qualifiers to the six-month outcomes of those same individuals. This approach allows us to examine for the first time the extent to which differences seen in graduates’ early careers persist into the medium term. It explores the transitions made by graduates during the critical stages of their early careers following graduation.

The overall professional employment rate shows a substantial improvement 40 months after graduating, increasing from 64.1 per cent at six months to 77.8 per cent at 40 months.

Trends in employment rates of some student groups are of particular note:

  • Having started with the lowest employment rate of all ethnic groups, Chinese graduates see their employment rates increase dramatically so that at 40 months after graduating they have one of the highest rates.
  • Large variations in the employment rates of graduates from different higher education subjects reduce substantially with all subjects falling within just 6 percentage points of one another.

However, the research also shows that some differences in employment outcomes between student backgrounds and subject choices persist into their medium term employment:

  • Lower professional employment rates among disadvantaged students continue through their early careers.
  • Initial similarities in the professional employment rates of male and female graduates disappear and by 40 months the professional employment rate for male graduates was nearly 2 percentage points higher than females.
  • Ethnic groups see differences in their professional employment rates widen – only 66 per cent of Black African graduates had professional employment 40 months after leaving higher education, 13 percentage points below the highest rates.
  • Employment rates of disabled graduates were consistently lower than graduates with no disability. 

Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

‘It is really encouraging to see how graduates’ early careers develop in such dynamic ways within three years, and that most graduates are in professional employment or further study. We know that on average graduates earn £100,000 more over their lifetime than those without a degree so this is further confirmation that degrees are worth it.

‘In future the availability of HM Revenue and Customs data and HEFCE’s ability to track graduates throughout their careers will vastly enhance the evidence base relating not to early but to medium and long-term graduate outcomes, providing much richer detail of how graduates progress through different career trajectories.

‘The research confirms findings from other studies that professional employment outcomes are lower for some groups of students, and we will continue our work with universities to address these areas of inequality.’  

Read the report 'Differences in employment outcomes: Equality and diversity characteristics' (HEFCE 2015/23).


1. The ‘professional employment rate’ is defined as the proportion of qualifiers who were either in further study or employed in a professional or managerial occupation. Professional and managerial occupations are defined by the classification of a graduate’s employment using the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2000 system. Those SOC groups identifying ‘Managers and senior officials’, ‘Professional occupations’ and ‘Associate professional and technical occupations’ are used to define professional or managerial occupations as considered in this report. Further details of the SOC 2000 system can be found on the Higher Education Statistics Authority website at

2. Data for this report was taken from the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) and Longitudinal Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (LDLHE) surveys. The DLHE survey is a census of all UK- and European Union-domiciled individuals who completed higher education courses in the UK in each academic year, and is collected by the Higher Education Statistics Authority. The 2008-09 DLHE provides information on a student’s employment or further study six months after they gained a qualification in the 2008-09 academic year. A sample of respondents to the 2008-09 DLHE survey were contacted again at three and a half years (40 months) after leaving higher education to participate in the LDLHE survey. This follow-up survey collects a wide range of information on a 2008-09 qualifier’s employment or further study circumstances on 26 November 2012.