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Degrees of Advantage? A longer-term investigation of the careers of UK graduates

The fifth and sixth stages of the Futuretrack study, where IER researchers went back to the Futuretrack cohort of students who applied to university in 2005/2006, most of whom graduated in 2009/10, 9-10 and again, following Covid 10-11 years after their graduation, have now been completed.

Futuretrack Stage 5 aimed to:

Create an accurate picture of the kinds of jobs graduates are doing in the longer-term, and how they got them,explore how the recession affected graduate employment,collect data on the longer-term impact of student debt on graduate careers,establish whether higher education has contributed to social mobility, andcompare the experiences of the Futuretrack cohort with students who graduated in 1995.

Futuretrack is an academic research study that explores the relationship between higher education, career decision-making and labour market opportunities – an issue that has become heated in media and academic debates. Futuretrack stages 1-4 were led by Professor Kate Purcell, working closely with Professor Peter Elias. It tracked the 2005/2006 cohort of applicants who applied to study on full-time undergraduate courses through the University and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) applicants four times in six years, starting from their initial application to higher education, shedding a great deal of light on the relationship between higher education, employment and how students’ views of career options evolved during their studies.

Findings from all previous stages 1-4 are available on the Futuretrack website. The fourth stage, conducted in 2011/12, looked at what kinds of jobs recent graduates were doing around two years after graduation. The fifth stage, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, provided a timely opportunity to catch up with the Futuretrackers to see how they had navigated the labour market over the longer term. The fifth stage was led by Prof Peter Elias, with a team of researchers that included old Futuretrack team members and new faces. Professor Purcell, who had withdrawn from the fifth stage initially due to illness, was able to rejoin the research team in summer 2019. However, as the team analyses the extensive quantitative and qualitative data generated during Stage 5, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world economy, so an additional, shorter, Stage 6 programme of research was undertaken to asses its impact on the career development and longer-term perspectives of the Futuretrack respondents.

Futuretrack is an independent, interdisciplinary, policy-related research project. Stages 1-4 were funded by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU) and this Institute, working with UCAS. The fifth and sixth stages were funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Please see the Futuretrack website for further information.


Project team: Peter Elias (Principal Investigator)

Kate Purcell (Co-Investigator)

Gaby Atfield

Erika Kispeter

Project duration:

April 2018 - September 2021

Project funder: