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Findings so far...


The Survey:

Stage 1 Choices, funding and expectations: applying to higher education.

The Stage 1 survey went live in the summer of 2006. Applicants were encouraged to complete the survey, regardless of whether they decided to go into higher education, pursue other options or if they didn’t get the UCAS points to progress further.

There were nearly 130,000 useable responses from 277 higher education institutions. Of which:

  • 105,000 were in higher education
  • 22,000 doing other things (such as working)

  • 86% were UK applicants
  • 14% were international applicants
  • 80% were aged 21 or under.

Stage 2 Plans, aspirations and realities: the experience of students in their first year of higher education.

  • Over 80% of Futuretrack respondents agreed that the tuition and learning support their received on their course was excellent.
  • Students studying at highest tariff universities were most likely to be satisfied with access to library resources and web-based learning facilities.
  • Students from general HE colleges were most likely to take part in extra-curricular activities outside the university.
  • 36% worked both during term-time and in vacations.

Stage 3 How higher education courses and study contexts impacted on students’ assessments, evaluations and predictions of educational outcomes.

  • More than half of the mature students hoped to find employment related to their long-term career plans in the year after they graduated. They were the only group for whom this figure was over 50 per cent.
  • In most regions, between 40-50 per cent of the finalists had undertaken paid work, but students in Northern Ireland and Scotland were considerably more likely to have done so, whereas those in Wales and the East of England were least likely to have had such jobs.
  • Mature students, male students, black students, students studying discipline-based academic subjects, students studying at higher or medium tariff universities, and European or overseas students were more aware than other respondents of the services their University Careers Service offered.

Stage 4 Transitions into employment, further study and other outcomes

  • Approximately 40% of graduates were in non-graduate employment, and more than 10% had experienced significant spells of unemployment.
  • 60% graduates in employment were satisfied with their job. Ten per cent were very dissatisfied. Overall 29% said that they took their current job because it was exactly the type of work they wanted.
  • Almost half of graduates from English universities had debts of £20,000 or more. For those who attended a Scottish university only 1 in 6 had similar levels of debt.
  • Approximately 60% of graduates agreed to some extent that their degree had been good value for money and approximately a quarter disagreed to some extent.
  • Only 21% of graduates had no work experience at all at the time they graduated.
  • Around three-quarters of graduates thought they possessed all the skills employers were looking for when recruiting for the type of job they wanted.
  • Two thirds of all graduates agreed that they were optimistic about their long-term career prospects.
  • Just 4% of graduates would choose not to go into HE if they were facing today (the time of the survey) the choice they made in 2005/06

Stage 5 Ten Years On: The Futuretrack Graduates

By this stage of the research, the sample was increasingly skewed towards those who had experienced relative success in terms of career development, although graduates from the full spectrum of 2009-10 graduates continued to participate. Although many had experienced initial difficulties and setbacks on accessing the kinds of jobs they aspired to after graduating into the recessionary labour market the succeeded the 2008-9 banking failures, the majority considered themselves to be in appropriate employment, established in careers and doing work that used, recognised and rewarded their knowledge, skills and qualifications. Mostly in their early 30s, many had embarked on, or were considering, family-building and around a third already had children. Although we found a significant proportion working in very different modes of employment to that reported by previous generations, aided by technology, reflecting global employment and client networks and the fragmenting labour market – with slightly more than had been the case in previous generations in self-employment and in subcontracting and freelance patterns of work – most were confident about their careers. A small minority continued to be handicapped by the initial setbacks, but others who were in ostensibly non-graduate jobs were often in new, poorly-classified occupations or making choices reflecting priorities other than career- or income maximisation.

Two of the most thought-provoking findings, however, were the very wide range of graduate earnings, which primarily reflected differences among sectors of employment and the valued placed on different occupations. Regional inequalities in graduate opportunities also affected the jobs that these graduates had been able to obtain, with the majority of graduate jobs, even more than jobs generally, concentrated in London and the South East, and in the major conurbations. Within different sectors, perhaps the most shocking finding was the persistence of the gender pay gap, which had widened as careers developed and had remained virtually unchanged since the last longitudinal survey the authors had undertaken where they followed a large sample of those who had graduated in 1995. Some occupational areas and sectors of employment have been more resistant to the extension of equal opportunities than others.

Stage 6 Covid-19 and graduate careers

This was an unplanned additional stage of the research. As we had analysed the finding of the 2019 research, Covid-19 struck and we became uncomfortably aware that many of those who responded so positively about their current situations and were optimistic about their future prospects might be seriously challenged by the restriction and financial implications of the emerging situation. In the event, we found that for the majority, who were established in appropriate careers, their qualifications and the experience that they had accrued since graduating had largely insulted them from the worst effects of the pandemic. However, it was clear that for many, especially those in sectors of employment particularly affected by the restrictions, and for those in relatively precarious employment situations, the restrictions and financial impact had led to serious difficulties. Although few had been made redundant of experienced substantial income reductions, many more had been furloughed, lost income and work opportunities, and been forced to re-evaluate what was important to them. Virtually all of them had experienced substantial impacts on their capacities to do their jobs and modes of working, and on their general well-being.

The report covers the full range of experiences, from those who provided essential goods and services who had to take account of the Covid-19 restrictions and changing regulations as they were exposed to the dangers of workplaces and public transport to get to work, those balancing hybrid patterns of working, and those confined to working exclusively from home. Some found that the experiences reinforced their commitment to their careers and, among those working from home, enjoyed the new freedom to adjust their work/life balances and spend more time in the family and community and less on travel. Others found the isolation and lack of normal support and resources to do their jobs as before extremely stressful. For many, whether working on site or at home, there were unprecedented stresses and concerns leading to mental health problems. Those with children were particularly challenged during lockdowns and withdrawal of the normal childcare support they had relied on.

The overall finding that the proportion of respondents who responded that they were optimistic or reasonably about their long-term career prospects fell from 78 per cent to 70 per cent between 2019 and 2020 indicated that these graduates were generally confident of surviving the pandemic, but it masks radical changes in their attitudes to career development in the future, as is discussed in the report. The implications for the future of work, employment and the graduate labour market are also discussed.


Stage 1

Stage 1 Summary Report(PDF Document)

Stage 1 Full Report(PDF Document)

Stage 2

Stage 2 Summary Report(PDF Document)

Stage 2 Full Report(PDF Document)

Stage 3

Stage 3 Summary Report(PDF Document)

Stage 4

Stage 4 Summary Report (PDF Document)

Stage 4 Full Report(PDF Document)

Stage 5

Stage 5 Full Report(PDF Document)

Stage 6

Stage 6 Full Report(PDF Document)

Summary of Stages 5 and 6

Summary Report(PDF Document)

Working Papers

'A New Classification of Higher Education Institutions'(PDF Document)

'Job Search and Motivations'(PDF Document)

'Paid Work and Debt'(PDF Document)

'Skills Development and Perceptions of Skills Required'(PDF Document)

'Classifying graduate occupations for the knowledge society' (PDF Document)

'The earnings of graduates: reviewing the evidence from Futuretrack' (PDF Document)

Northern Ireland

'Northern Ireland's students : key findings from the Futuretrack Stage 1 survey', Labour Market Bulletin, (22), 117 - 132 (1351-4504)(PDF Document)

'Northern Ireland's students approaching graduation: key findings from the Futuretrack survey of final year students on three year courses', Labour Market Bulletin, 24 97 - 105 (1351-4504) (PDF Document)

'Northern Ireland's students: key findings from the Futuretrack survey of final year students on three year courses: Report prepared for the Department for Employment and Learning (DELNI)' (PDF Document)