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Executive summary

Background and purpose

1. Analyses of datasets, such as the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey and Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data, provide a detailed understanding of graduates’ labour market outcomes; however, graduates are likely to gain far more from higher education than just employment. Higher education’s effect on a graduate’s life, from the graduate’s perspective, can be captured by their assessment of their own wellbeing. This report details the differences between the wellbeing of graduates and non-graduates, and identifies the groups for whom higher education has the greatest effect. It uses data from the ONS Annual Population Survey (APS), Special Licence Access April 2015 – March 2016.

Key points

2. Graduates tend to be more satisfied with their lives than non-graduates; however, they also tend to be more anxious across all income levels than people who have no qualifications above A-level. Graduates also tend to find their lives more worthwhile and be happier than non-graduates. The difference between the satisfaction and anxiety dimensions of wellbeing highlights the inadequacy of using a single measure to summarise graduates’ wellbeing.

3. There is also less variation in the wellbeing of graduates. They are less likely than non-graduates to experience extremely low wellbeing, but also less likely to experience extremely high wellbeing.

Figure 1: Wellbeing across qualifications

Note: Unweighted, mean group responses. Error bars denote the 95 per cent confidence interval of the mean.

4. The increased anxiety of graduates is most prevalent in London. In most other areas of the UK, graduates are both more satisfied and less anxious than non-graduates. It is unclear whether this is due to the location, the characteristics of the graduate population or their circumstances. For example, graduates who earn first class honours degrees are both significantly more anxious than lower-attaining graduates and also the most likely to move to London following graduation.

5. Within an occupation, graduates are rarely more satisfied, or more anxious, than non-graduates. Access to particular occupations may explain a large part of the graduate wellbeing premium and, since some occupations are concentrated in urban areas, may also go some way to explaining the regional effect. More research is required to establish the nature of these interactions.

Figure 2: Anxiety across regions, relative to non-graduates

Note: Difference in mean anxiety scores between graduates and non-graduates. For anxiety scores, a lower score denotes lower level of anxiety. Filled in bars show that the difference is statistically significant to a 5 per cent significance level.

6. Graduates are less affected by negative life circumstances than non-graduates. The benefits of higher education are most conspicuous for people who are inactive in the labour market, separated, divorced or unmarried, or who have very poor health. For example, non-graduates who are not in the workforce are 11 per cent less satisfied with their lives than those who have jobs. However, for graduates, the difference is only 4 per cent. The findings are similar for anxiety: graduates with ‘Very bad’ health are 15 per cent less anxious than similar non-graduates.

Figure 3: Difference in anxiety between graduates and non-graduates

Note: Difference in mean anxiety scores between graduates and non-graduates. For the anxiety scores, a lower score indicates lower anxiety. Filled in bars show that the difference is statistically significant to a 5 per cent significance level.

Action required

7. This document is for information only.

Date: 29 November 2017

Ref: 2017/31

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Graduate employability and careers, Equalities

Enquiries should be directed to:

Email qapt@hefce.ac.uk