Skip to main content Skip to navigation

What is Futuretrack?

girl laptop

Futuretrack is the most extensive investigation of the relationship between higher education and employment ever undertaken in the UK.

All 2005-6 UCAS applicants were invited by UCAS to access the Futuretrack online survey via a secure link which guaranteed that responses would be treated in confidence, seen only by the research team, with no individual level information passed to any third party or published in a way that breached this confidentiality - and it attracted great interest among students. The database contains usable responses from just under 138,000 respondents. Although the response rate fell at each stage from the initial 130,000 members of the cohort who completed the Stage 1 survey, it has continued to provide robust and comprehensive data to clarify the socio-economic and educational variables that determine career decision-making, access to and use of career information, attracted more members from the 2005-6 applicant cohort as it proceeded and, most recently, has investigated the early career experiences of graduate respondents who completed their degrees in 2009 and 2010. These represent the full spectrum of full-time undergraduate course-leavers, from the longest-established and most elite to the newest and most recently-established universities and higher education colleges, covering the full range of undergraduate courses, subjects of study and disciplines. As of December 2020, the Futuretrack Stage 6 survey had caught up with the Futuretrackers, eleven or twelve years after graduation.

The diversity of the population involved and the scope of the study makes it particularly valuable as a source of data:

  • it is longitudinal
  • it has included overseas students studying on undergraduate programmes in the UK as well as UK-domiciled respondents;
  • the research team is multi-disciplinary;
  • it includes UCAS applicants who deferred, took gap years, did not complete courses, and some who never proceeded to full-time HE and took different career paths;
  • because it was drawn from the entire population of UCAS 2005/06 applicants, so that the full applicant profile is known, the responses could be weighted at all but the most recent stages to be representative of the population from which they were drawn.
  • the research process has benefited from support and advice from representatives of all the main HE stakeholders' organisations, including government and policy communities, but it has remained wholly independent academic research research, sponsored by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit with supplementary funding from the Institute for Employment Research reserves (stages 1-4), and by the Nuffield Foundation (stage 5). The sole interest of both the research team and the sponsors has been to establish the most accurate possible account of the challenges and opportunities encountered by undergraduates and graduate labour market entrants, to provide robust evidence to inform all those with an interest in the relationship between higher education, career decision-making and employment.

Findings have been and will continue to be presented to UK policy and practitioner stakeholder organisations, representatives of which are involved in the projects advisory committee, consulted throughout the programme and given access to findings prior to publication, and findings continue to be widely presented at UK and overseas academic and practitioner conferences.

The programme of research for Futuretrack Stages 1-4 was directed by Professor Kate Purcell, working closely with Professor Peter Elias, who worked throughout with her on the survey design and statistical management. For stages 1-4, the research was sponsored by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit HESCU, and members of the HECSU research team have also contributed to analysis of findings, particularly related to careers guidance material. Futuretrack Stages 5 and 6 with some changes of research team membership, were directed by Professor Peter Elias, after Professor Purcell retired but continued to work on the project on a part-time basis. Further Institute researchers have been co-opted from time to time to contribute to particular aspects of analysis. For Stage 5 and 6, the project was funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Information about the current research team can be found by clicking on the heading at the top of this page.