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Understanding graduate labour market integration and higher education

Researchers at IER have been investigating the relationship between higher education participation and employment since the late 1980s. This has included large-scale longitudinal surveys of several UK graduate cohorts from higher education into their early careers. The Futuretrack longitudinal survey, funded by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) and for the fifth Wave, the Nuffield Foundation, is a five-wave study tracking people who applied to enter full-time higher education in 2005/6. It is the largest independent longitudinal study of HE student careers in the UK.

IER has received funding to use the Futuretrack data to further investigate specific issues and the experiences of particular groups of students. To date, funding has been received from: the Department of Employment and Learning Northern Ireland (DEL-NI) for two pieces of work on Northern Ireland’s students; the Royal Society of Chemistry for a study of Chemical Sciences students and their subsequent careers; the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) for a project on student and graduate migration in the EU; the Nuffield Foundation for a project on student mothers and social mobility; HESA for work on understanding students’ needs for data on HE destinations; the ESRC for two projects, one on precarious employment and young people’s labour market transitions and one on the impact of HE restructuring on occupational change; and DfE for several projects examining the wider benefits of HE. Four reports based on Futuretrack data were commissioned from HECSU by BIS.

Findings from Futuretrack have been widely used to develop and inform policy, including the Office For Fair Access National Strategy (2014), the Scottish Government Taught Postgraduate Review (2015), the HESA/HEFCE review of student outcomes and destinations data (2016), the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility’s review on improving the transition from school to work (2016), the Shadbolt Review of computer science graduates’ employability (2016) and the Wakeham Review of STEM degree provision and graduate employability (2016). The UCU have also used findings from Futuretrack in their campaigning work on HE tuition fees. Data from Futuretrack and earlier cohort studies conducted by IER has been instrumental in the development by Elias and Purcell of the SOC(HE)2010 classification of jobs in the graduate labour market. This classification has been established as a standard means for assessing labour market change in the graduate labour market and is used by HEFCE and ONS to analyse the graduate labour market and to make decisions about, for example, the provision of Foundation degrees and support for HE subjects deemed strategically important.

Anonymised data from Futuretrack has been deposited with the UK Data Service (sn 8032) to promote further use.

A fifth wave was completed in 2019 and in response to the onset of the Civid-19 pandemic in early 2020 and its impact on employment and the economy, a sixth wave was conducted in 2020 to assess the impact of the pandemic and resultant restrictions on the career development, employment security and longer-term perspectives of the Futuretrack respondents. The reports and details of the research undertaken can be accessed on the Futuretrack web pages,

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