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Executive summary

Background and purpose

1. This report analyses how the intentions of undergraduate first degree students during their final year compare with their actual destinations six months after graduation, by mapping the 2015 Intentions After Graduation Survey (IAGS) against the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey 2016. The report compares the actual destinations of students by their intentions and by their characteristics.

2. This follows on from ‘Intentions After Graduation Survey 2016: Breakdown of responses by questions and characteristics of students’ (HEFCE 2016/37), updating the analysis with the most recent survey results.

Key points

Overall patterns

3. A large proportion of those who go on to postgraduate study did not have firm plans to do so just months earlier. Just over a third (36 per cent) of postgraduate entrants in 2015-16 had indicated an intention to study at postgraduate level in spring 2015.

4. Conversely, of those surveyed in spring 2015 who planned to go straight on to postgraduate (PG) study, 67 per cent actually did so. Around 18 per cent ended up going into work and a further 4.7 per cent are in other or unknown activities, including unemployed and travelling.

5. Of those ‘Unlikely ever’ to study at PG level, around 9.8 per cent ended up studying or working and studying.

Variation between student groups

6. The analysis shows that intentions differ from actual destinations for all student groups, but that these differences are greater for some groups.

7. The match between intentions and destinations is broadly similar for students of different ethnicities, but some differences exist. Typically, the actual destinations of black and minority ethnic students are more likely to match their intentions. However, there are notable differences between ethnic groups within this category. Students of black ethnicity were the lowest proportion to intend to go on to PG study (6.8 per cent) in 2015, and of these students only just over half matched their intention (56 per cent) – the lowest proportion of all ethnic groups to fulfil such an intention.

8. Chinese students are the most likely to match their intentions. Of the Chinese students who immediately intended to go on to PG study in IAGS 2015, 88 per cent were studying in the six months following graduation.

9. While there is little difference in the intentions of students from different young participation backgrounds, there are in their actual destinations. The proportion of students who intended to go on to PG study and actually did so was around 9 percentage points lower for those from the least disadvantaged backgrounds compared with those from the most. A higher proportion of those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds ended up working and studying.

10. Neither the age, sex nor the disability status of a student makes a difference to whether students’ final year intentions match their actual destinations after graduation.

11. Only a small proportion of students on sandwich courses have any intention to go on to PG study, with 70 per cent falling into the ‘Unlikely ever’ group based on their survey responses. In 2015, of those students who were ‘Unlikely ever’ to go on to PG study 85 per cent were employed within six months after graduating.

12. Having an actual destination that does not match their study intention seems to be correlated with a student’s eventual degree class. Graduates achieving lower classifications are more likely to revise their plans and go into work instead. The largest such difference is seen among those in the ‘Immediately intend’ and ‘Likely in the future’ intention groups. This difference does not explain the observed differences between students with different characteristics.

13. There are no observable differences in the factors affecting PG study between those whose intentions matched their eventual outcome and those whose did not.

Action required

14. This document is for information only.


NB: This report was amended in October 2017 to correct an error. In paragraph 35, 'marginally more likely' now reads 'marginally less likely'. This does not affect the overall findings of the report.

Date: 15 December 2016

Ref: HEFCE 2016/38

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Postgraduate education, Student opportunity, Planning, Graduate outcomes

Enquiries should be directed to:

Alan Williams, email, tel 0117 931 7276