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Executive summary

Purpose

1. This report looks at the degree outcomes of UK-domiciled first degree graduates from English higher education institutions (HEIs) in 2013-14. We examine the extent to which course and student characteristics affect graduates’ chances of obtaining an upper second or first class degree, as well as the changes in degree outcomes between 2010-11 and 2013-14.

Background

2. This report follows on from a series of reports, including ‘Differences in degree outcomes: Key findings’ (HEFCE 2014/03), ‘Higher education and beyond: Outcomes from full-time first degree study’ (HEFCE 2013/15) and ‘Student ethnicity: Profile and progression of entrants to full-time, first degree study’ (HEFCE 2010/13), which consider differences in degree outcomes and show that these can be significant between different groups of graduates.

3. All of these previous reports track students’ progression from entry into higher education through to their first degree qualification. In this report we focus on the 2013-14 graduates, examining how degree outcomes vary between different groups (classified by course and student characteristics), after modelling to account for other factors. In addition, at a sector level, we examine how degree outcomes have changed since 2010-11.

Key points

4. The study looks at all first degree graduates from English HEIs in 2013-14. The key findings of the study are as follows.

Across degree subject areas, there is a wide variation in the proportion of graduates who gained a first or upper second; this relationship itself varies depending on whether firsts are considered in isolation or in combination with upper seconds

5. The proportion awarded a first or upper second in 2013-14 ranges from 60 per cent of graduates in combined subjects to 90 per cent of medicine and dentistry graduates. When firsts only are considered, the range runs from 12 per cent of law graduates gaining a first to 35 per cent of mathematical science graduates.

6. Most of this variation is explained by observed differences in the compositions of the student cohorts choosing to study different subjects, but there are some notable exceptions.

Graduates who study degree courses part-time do less well than their full-time counterparts

7. The difference between full- and part-time graduates is 18 percentage points, with 75 per cent of full-time graduates gaining a first or upper second class degree compared with 57 per cent of part time graduates.

8. After taking into account other factors including entry qualifications, only four percentage points of the observed 18 percent point gap are explained. There remains an unexplained 14 percentage point difference between the proportions of full- and part-time graduates gaining first or upper second class degrees. Thus these other factors explain only a small amount of the variation in degree outcomes between full-time and part-time graduates.

Although a lower proportion of mature graduates obtain a first or upper second class degree compared with young graduates, on a like-for-like basis mature graduates outperform their younger counterparts

9. In 2013-14, the difference between the two groups is 11 percentage points, with 64 per cent of mature graduates gaining a first or upper second compared with 75 percent of young graduates.

10. However, after taking into account other factors including entry qualifications, mature graduates have an unexplained seven percentage point advantage over young graduates.

Female graduates are more likely to achieve a first or upper second

11. The difference between men and women gaining a first or upper second class degree was four percentage points, with 74 per cent of female graduates obtaining such a degree in 2013-14 compared with 70 per cent of male graduates.

12. After taking into account other factors, the unexplained difference between the sexes rises to five percentage points (as opposed to the observed difference of four percentage points): the proportion of males gaining a first or upper second is five percentage points lower than their female counterparts.

Graduates with disabilities tend to do slightly less well than those without reported disabilities

13. Splitting by disability status shows that a lower percentage of graduates with specified disabilities achieving a first or upper second class degree than those without a disability. This difference is four percentage points in 2013-14, with 73 per cent of graduates with no specified disability gaining a first or upper second class degree compared with 69 per cent of those with a disability.

14. Accounting for the additional modelling factors shows that graduates without a disability continue to have an advantage over graduates with a disability specified: on a like-for-like basis, the unexplained difference is three percentage points.

White graduates have significantly higher degree classifications than graduates from other ethnicities

15. The proportion of white graduates who achieved a first or upper second class degree in 2013-14 is 76 per cent, compared with 60 per cent of black and minority ethnic graduates. This is a 16 percentage point difference between the two groups of graduates.

16. Once other factors are taken into account, the proportion of black and minority ethnic graduates gaining a first or upper second continues to be 15 percentage points lower than their white counterparts.

For all but those with the very highest A-level grades, state school graduates tend to have higher degree outcomes than independent school graduates with the same prior educational attainment

17. In 2013-14, 73 per cent of state school graduates gained a first or upper second class degree compared with 82 per cent of independent school graduates. This is a nine percentage point difference.

18. There is only a small difference between the two groups at the highest entry grades, but this difference widens considerably for those entering with A-level grades AAC and below.

19. The modelled results show that after taking other factors into account, the percentage of state school graduates is higher than predicted. The observed nine percentage point difference is more than explained by other factors (such as the different distribution of A-level achievement), which results in an unexplained four percentage points advantage to state school students.

Graduates from the highest-participation neighbourhoods have the highest degree classifications compared with graduates from other neighbourhoods

20. 66 per cent of graduates from the lowest-participation neighbourhoods gained a first or upper second class degree in 2013-14. This is 11 percentage points lower than the highest participation neighbourhoods, where 77 per cent of graduates gained a first or upper second class degree.

21. Taking into account the other factors, the unexplained difference between those from the lowest and highest participation areas is three percentage points.

Between 2010-11 and 2013-14 there has been an annual increase of around one and a half percentage points in the proportion of qualifiers with first and upper second class degrees, around half of which is explained by changes in student characteristics

22. Around half of the annual increase is explained by changes in student characteristics such as entry qualifications, gender, ethnicity, disadvantage and previous school type. The rest could be due to other factors not taken into account, such as unmeasured changes in student characteristics, learning, teaching and retention practices at institutions, or behaviour following the introduction of higher fees.

 

NB: Because of a transposition error, the original version of this document gave incorrect figures for the numbers of qualifications in state and independent schools. Paragraphs 17, 19, 74 and 76, and Table H1 in Annex H, have been amended to correct this. The main findings of the study are unaffected.

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Correction

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Report

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Annex A: Entry qualifications

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Annex B: Details of modelling technique

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Annex C: Differences in degree outcomes by mode of study

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Annex D: Differences in degree outcomes by age

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Annex E: Differences in degree outcomes by sex

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Annex F: Differences in degree outcomes by disability

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Annex G: Differences in degree outcomes by ethnicity

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Annex H: Differences in degree outcomes by previous school

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Annex I: Differences in degree outcomes by young participation rate quintile

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Annex J: Differences in degree outcomes by qualification year

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Date: September 2015

Ref: 2015/21

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Planning, Widening participation

Enquiries should be directed to:

Quantitative Analysis for Policy Team, email qapt@hefce.ac.uk, or Rebecca Titchiner, tel 0117 931 7407, email r.titchiner@hefce.ac.uk