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The Longitudinal Survey


Futuretrack surveyed applicants for full-time undergraduate courses who filled in their UCAS application in 2005/06

Futuretrack is a primarily quantitative longitudinal study of UCAS 2005-6 applicants, tracked in detail since they applied to study on a full-time undergraduate course as they followed a variety of routes through higher education or parallel to it, to investigate the impact of educational and career decisions on access to opportunities and subsequent career routes. It has involved a series of online surveys following applicants as they proceeded through higher education or took different career paths into the labour market, between April 2006 and March 2012. Further follow-up research on particular sub-groups of respondents have been undertaken and it is hope that more research on the Futuretrack cohort will be will be conducted in the future.

Stage 1 Undertaken in Autumn 2006 as applicants were preparing to enter higher education....

...examined the key factors related to the success or otherwise of an application to study full-time in a UK higher education institution in 2006.

  • Respondent's reasons for applying to enter higher education (HE) - or not;
  • students' reasons for their choices of particular courses, universities and college;
  • how students envisaged that their studies would be funded, and their views about this;
  • experiences of the HE application process;
  • respondents' attitudes, values and views about HE policy and the value of HE.

The key findings were that motivations to enter higher education and access to information had a clear impact on the likelihood of respondents making a successful application and embarking on a suitable course. The findings also revealed that most students were broadly happy with their academic experience, but that finances and the need to undertake paid employment were a continuing concern. Wide discrepancies were shown, however, in both students’ experience of the HE process and the resources available to them, and the extent to which they had access to and were able to take advantage of extra-curricular opportunities that being a full-time student provides. There was also evidence that students were not making full use of the careers services available to them. A high proportion of those who did not proceed into higher education or who subsequently left intended to re-enter HE within the next three years.

Stage 2 Undertaken during Summer/Autumn 2007 examined and investigated what had happened and if attitudes had changed:  

  • who had obtained places and who had gone on to HE - or had not;
  • (for most) their evaluation of the HE experience after a year as a student;
  • obstacles encountered and access to opportunities before and during studies;
  • the impact of HE context on outcomes and attitudes (region, type of HE institution, travel, accommodation and other resources available to them);
  • current career aspirations and use of careers guidance;
  • how students managed their finances, and their experiences of and attitudes to debt;
  • what happened to those who had not gone on to full-time study, and what were their plans for the future.

Stage 3 Spring/Summer 2009, repeated in 2010, focussed on plans for the transition from undergraduate to graduate education and entry into the labour market. Students in the final term of a three or four year degree programme were asked about:

  • their use of careers information and guidance services;
  • postgraduate study plans;
  • experiences and attitudes towards job-seeking and career planning;
  • their evaluation of their HE experiences, including participation in extra-curricular activities;
  • their perceptions of the opportunities and obstacles that faced them as they prepared to make the transition to the next stage of their careers;
  • the debts they had accumulated so far as students;
  • those who had not proceeded to HE were again asked about their career-related experiences and attitudes towards training and education.

Stage 4 Conducted in Autumn/Winter 2011 and 2012 ‘Futuretrackers’ in employment

This stage compared the experiences of those who did not study full-time with those who did, and surveyed career outcomes so far: in particular, the following issues:

  • early graduate career development in a very demanding recessionary context;
  • different career paths of different groups of graduates;
  • the impact of careers advice and guidance and outcomes;
  • the value of higher education experience and credentials;
  • the evaluation of the fit between education and outcomes;
  • the impact of long-term career plans and short-term decisions, and vice versa;
  • educational, training and career guidance needs;
  • integration into the graduate labour market: winners, losers, and what can we learn from their experience?

Stage 5 Conducted in Summer and Autumn 2019 'UK graduates 10 years on'

At this stage, we wanted to investigate the progress of members of this cohort, who had graduated into a recessionary labour market following the 2008-9 financial crisis. Our objectives were:
  • to assess the relevance of knowledge and skills graduates gained on their undergraduate degree programmes to their career trajectories;
  • to reveal the opportunities and obstacles encountered in career development, in relation to educational, demographic and socio-economic characteristics;
  • to investigate respondents’ attitudes to employment, family-building and wider values;
  • to clarify the variables that underpin differential access to graduate earnings and the graduate premium, and how this compares with and perhaps enables us to better understand the findings of recent studies which do not include qualitative as well as quantitative research;
  • to investigate the longer-term impact of debt on respondents’ access to opportunities and their evaluations of their investment in higher education;
  • by comparing this cohort of 2009/10 graduates with an earlier cohort that graduated in 1995, to evaluate how far there has been change in the intervening period in the extent to which HE had enabled them to obtain appropriate employment for people with their knowledge, skills and educational achievement.
Stage 6 was an unplanned follow-up to the 2019 research to establish the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on respondents' careers and security

As we were analysing the information collected at Stage 5, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. We became aware that members of this latter group, and an increasing proportion of those who had previously been on what they regarded as secure career trajectories, might be facing substantial challenges both during the pandemic lockdown period and in a Covid-induced recession. In previous recessions, the knowledge and skills of graduates have tended to shield them from the worst effects of labour market shocks and ensuing economic downturns, but would this prove to have been the case during the pandemic and in its aftermath?

  • Would the lowest paid graduates, and particularly those in non-graduate jobs, experience similar difficulties to the non-graduate population and find themselves falling further behind their better paid and more secure peers, or would being a graduate offer them some degree of protection?
  • Would we see new fractures developing in the graduate labour market and in the careers of graduates as new vulnerabilities emerged and graduates responded to changing economic and social realities?
  • In particular, for those in precarious employment and self-employment, how far would their opportunities and career prospects (about which most had been optimistic when surveyed and interviewed in 2019) have changed as a result of the restrictions and economic impact of the pandemic?

PDFs of the online questionnaires can be downloaded (right) and we will be interested to hear of research where any of the questions used have been used for comparative purposes.

For questions about methodology email: 

Pdfs of the questionnaires

NB: These were online questionnaires through which respondents were routed as appropriate according to their situation and responses.

Stage 1 (PDF Document) 

Stage 2  (PDF Document) 

Stage 3 (3 year students) (PDF Document)

Stage 3.2 (4 year students) (PDF Document)

Stage 4 (PDF Document)

Stage 5 (wave 3 respondents)(PDF Document)

Stage 5 (wave 4 respondents)(PDF Document)

Stage 6 (short survey)(PDF Document) 

Stage 6 (long survey)(PDF Document)