Graduate Outcomes results published

Last week saw results of the inaugural Graduate Outcomes survey published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). The survey explores the outcomes of graduates from the 2017/18 academic year 15 months after completion of their course and paints a rich and contextual picture of the graduate labour market.

Graduate Outcomes is the largest annual social survey that is conducted in the UK and one that we, at IFF Research, are extremely proud to help deliver. For us, it has been quite some journey to this point: from delivery of its predecessor surveys (Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) for many providers and the Longitudinal DLHE for HESA), to developing the new Graduate Outcomes survey through an extensive programme of cognitive testing, to delivery of over 200,000 telephone interviews in its first year.

Paul Clark, chief executive of HESA said last week: “The release of the Graduate Outcomes experimental statistics represents the first of an annual time series which will give a clear view of the transition from higher education to the workforce. The survey captures rich and robust data and ensures the information we collect reflects recent changes in the HE sector and in the graduate labour market.”

Results at an overall level are largely positive with the vast majority of graduates in some form of work or further study (90%) and most of those in employment working in highly skilled occupations (75%). Moreover, new self-reflective ‘graduate voice’ questions that have been designed to paint a broader, more holistic picture of outcomes show that most graduates are positive about the value of their activity and their progress towards future goals:

  • 85% of graduates agreed that they were engaged in meaningful activity 15 months after graduation
  • 79% said that their activity fits with their future plans
  • 71% agreed that they were utilising what they had learned during their studies

But, as many commentators have already picked up, beneath these overall findings, there is worrying evidence of continued gender and ethnicity ‘gaps’ in outcomes. Overall, women were paid 10% less than their male counterparts and were over-represented in the lower pay bands. And even in comparable roles, the gap persisted. Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) graduates were 8 percentage points less likely to be in full-time employment than white graduates and more likely to unemployed (5% vs 3%)

In a graduate labour market that is likely to be increasingly challenging post COVID-19, understanding the outcomes of graduates and the impact of higher education is going to become ever more critical and we look forward to our continued involvement in one of the most important studies that is conducted in the country.

Further Information

The Experimental Statistical Bulletin Higher Education Graduate Outcomes Statistics: UK, 2017/18 provides high level findings and characteristics of graduate outcomes at a national level. The release includes breakdowns by graduates’ activity, personal characteristics, employment type, previous study and salary as well as graduates’ own reflections on their activity.

Further releases of more detailed Graduate Outcomes open data will be published by HESA on the HE Graduate Outcomes Data page from 23 June. The first of these releases will include breakdowns by HE provider.

Launch of Creative Spark Year 2

Investigating a new educational landscape with Creative Spark

New Frontiers

Social researchers are used to handling data from a many diverse sources. In the space of a project timeline, a member of our team can, for example, gain a full understanding of a schools’ funding system, the main issues around racial harassment in UK higher education institutions (HEIs), or be able to recite the Graduate Outcomes Questionnaire word by word (one of us can do it backwards). Over many years of work within the HE sector, IFF have become experts in all kinds of areas within higher education and the broader education sector.

Every once in a while, though, a project comes along that feels particularly exciting; a true venture into unknown territory. IFF’s work, in partnership with research partner Ecorys, on the evaluation of the British Council’s Creative Spark programme very much fits this bill.

Whilst HEI portfolio development, partnership building and recruitment strategy are key areas that IFF work within, the evaluation of the Creative Spark programme, involving HEIs in the UK partnering with counterparts in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Armenia and Ukraine engaged us in the investigation a new educational landscape.

Meeting the Creative Spark team

The creation of Creative Spark began with a report conducted by IFF research on behalf of the British Council published in May 2018. The report looked at the potential for partnership growth between UK and the wider Europe HEIs in the field of ‘creative enterprise’, making recommendations on the formation of a higher education enterprise programme that could facilitate and structure these partnerships.

Fast forward to November 2019, and Elizabeth Shepherd and Laura Hilger from our HE team presented findings from this study, and the monitoring and evaluation approach at the launch of Creative Spark programme in Tbisili, Georgia.

The Creative Spark Programme

Creative Spark is a British Council-funded programme involving the seven Wider European countries mentioned above. It is ambitious both in terms of scope and intended impact, funding 38 partnerships between UK HEIs and Wider Europe HEIs in the first year; with an initial year one aim to reach over 10,000 students and young entrepreneurs via Train the Trainer sessions, curriculum development and wider university strategy development to improve local capacity.

In addition to its overall objectives, the Creative Spark programme emphasises the need for partners to reflect and act upon local social issues when considering the design of their activities, and selection of beneficiaries.

The programme represents therefore a truly a multi-disciplinary approach, focusing on enterprise education for students and young entrepreneurs, raising awareness of the creative industries on a national level, and facilitating beneficiaries to tackle the most prevalent and challenging local social issues in their entrepreneurial activities.

Monitoring and Evaluation for year one

Seven Countries. 38 Partnerships. 88 individual organisations. Two researchers conducting qualitative fieldwork visits (with a few days of Russian Duolingo to help).

The scale of the programme was certainly a key challenge in developing an evaluation approach in collaboration with our colleagues from Ecorys. In development of a theory of change and analytical framework, the following monitoring & evaluation (M&E) objectives formed the bed rock of our approach:

  1. Assessing effectiveness of Creative Spark and sustainability of its outcomes and impacts over time
  2. Demonstrating long-term outcomes and impacts on programme countries’ economic growth, regional stability and engagement with UK culture and trade, in line with the British Council’s M&E responsibilities to its funders
  3. Demonstrating how the programme supports social inclusion and gender equality
  4. Building evaluation capacity across the partnerships and the British Council
  5. Helping track programme / partnership progress in a way that is consistent across partnerships and countries

Whilst designing the evaluation tools it was important for us not only to consider cultural and language barriers, functionality and design of online surveys and suitable timing for data collection, but also to acknowledge that the monitoring and evaluation for years 3, 4 and 5 of the programme would be led by the British Council project teams in each country. It was therefore essential for us to design an M&E programme that could be useable by the British Council following IFF’s involvement.

Learnings from year one

Now this would be giving it away a little! Next week we’ll be presenting the key findings from year one of Monitoring and Evaluation of the Creative Spark Programme at Queens College Oxford as part of the year two launch.  As testament to the strength of the programme, the British Council have announced 12 additional partnerships which will be launched at the conference. More to come on that next week.

In the meantime, we will leave you with some pictures of the qualitative fieldwork visits across the seven Wider Europe countries which give some idea as to the enthusiasm, passion and dedication that partners and beneficiaries had for Creative Spark.

Visiting Kazakhstan

For more information on IFF’s work on monitoring and evaluation for the Creative Spark programme, and research within the HE sector please contact Elizabeth on

…And if you ever find yourself in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan waiting for a delayed flight, make sure you try the Laghman.

Author: Daniel Salamons, Research Manager


Paying for Postgraduate Study – Findings from our evaluation of The Master’s Degree Loan Scheme

Contemporary discussion about encouraging access to Master’s degree study has long contemplated the potential role of government-offered student loans in driving take-up of postgraduate study. Introduced in 2016, the Master’s Degree Loan Scheme marks the first time that the Government has offered such a contribution to the costs of Master’s study, in an attempt to bring the student loan offer for postgraduate students somewhat in line with that offered to undergraduates.

Given the importance of this DfE initiative for postgraduate students, IFF are delighted to see that our independent evaluation of the Master’s Degree Loan has been published by the Department for Education. This report presents the findings of a survey of 2,002 Master’s students who started their study in 2016/17 and a survey of 79 providers of postgraduate education as well as analysis of historic secondary data. Findings from the quantitative study were also supplemented by qualitative interviews with Master’s students.

This study found that the English-domiciled Master’s population increased by a third between 2015/16 and 2016/17, suggesting at this early stage that the loan has been successful in increasing access to Master’s level education. This was accompanied by an increase in the proportion of students from a BAME background that made up the loan-eligible population of students studying at Master’s level, suggesting some success in widening participation as well.

Our research also uncovered evidence of the Loan leading to earlier access to the benefits enjoyed after students graduate, facilitating full-time rather than part-time study at postgraduate level for some students. This was not echoed, however, through any conclusive evidence that the Loan has reduced the average time gap that passes between undergraduate and postgraduate study.

From the perspective of Higher Education Institutions, our report also demonstrates that the Loan will help to provide more sustainable income for the sector, with institutions benefitting from increased student volumes in 2016/17. Half of institutions surveyed also reported that they believe the Loan will lead to increased revenue in the future.

On the same day that the report was published, Chris Skidmore MP, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, quoted our findings as part of his speech at the London School of Economics regarding governmental efforts to “secure the research talent of tomorrow”.

For more information speak to blog authors Lorna Adams and Sam Whittaker.