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Employment levels among graduates with disabilities

December 2023

Data shows how employment outcomes for graduates with disabilities compare with the wider graduate population, including by degree subject and ethnicity

The Higher Education Statistics Agency's (HESA) Graduate Outcomes survey not only illustrates the employment outcomes of graduates 15 months after graduation, but it also attempts to capture the subjective perspectives of recent graduates. Using the most recent data (relating to 2020/21 graduates), this article will focus on the outcomes of UK-domiciled, first-degree graduates with disabilities, as well as their reflections on their current activities.

A persistent issue that graduates with disabilities face relates to what they go on to do after graduation, as research has repeatedly shown that they are less likely than their counterparts without disabilities to be employed six months after graduation. Graduate Outcomes data conveys a similar trend with analysis showing that those with a known disability were less likely to find employment 15 months after graduation as well.

This article is updated annually with the most recent data

,No known disability,Known disability ,White (w/disability),Ethnic minority (w/disability)
Full-time employment,73.7,69.6,70.1,67.7
Part-time employment,12.3,12.8,12.8,12.9
Voluntary or unpaid work,1,1.9,1.8,2.1

Source: HESA Graduate Outcomes survey

Further investigation reveals that - similar to those without disabilities - white graduates with disabilities were actually more likely than their peers from an ethnic minority background to be in employment when surveyed and just slightly less likely to be in voluntary or unpaid work.

Employment levels by subject

When disaggregated by subject the data tells a similar story, as graduates without disabilities were more likely to find employment 15 months after graduating in every subject grouping. This gap is most pronounced among social science (four percentage points), science (3.5 percentage points) and creative arts graduates (three percentage points). The smallest gaps exist among business and administrative studies graduates (0.2 percentage points) and those who graduated with degrees in technology, engineering and maths (0.9 percentage points).

,No known disability,Known disability ,White (w/disability),Ethnic minority (w/disability)
Business administrative studies ,84.7,84.5,85.1,82.5
Creative arts,88.5,85.5,85.6,84
Science ,82.4,78.9,79.2,76.8
Technology engineering and maths ,88.2,87.3,88.1,84.8
Social sciences ,80,76,76.6,73.1
Humanities ,80.9,78.7,78.5,78.8

Source: HESA Graduate Outcomes survey

Furthermore, white graduates with disabilities were more likely to be in employment than their ethnic minority counterparts in each subject grouping.

The largest gap exists among business and administrative studies graduates, where a gap of 3.5 percentage points exists between the two groups.1 Similarly, among technology, engineering and maths graduates, we find a gap of 3.3 percentage points, with white graduates with disabilities being slightly more likely to find employment 15 months after graduation than their ethnic minority counterparts.

The smallest gaps existed among humanities (0.2 percentage points) and creative arts (1.6 percentage points) graduates, where both white graduates with disabilities and those from an ethnic minority background with disabilities achieved similar employment outcomes 15 months after graduation.

What are the barriers?

Students with disabilities face a range of barriers when transitioning into employment from higher education. For instance, compared to other students, students with severe disabilities have limited opportunities to gain work experience. Unable to work in many of the sectors that young people typically go into between graduation and their ideal career, some find it difficult to obtain the experience that many employers require.2

Employers also face barriers when attempting to recruit graduates with disabilities. Although the government provides financial support for disabled students transitioning into work through the Access to Work scheme, there appears to be a lack of awareness among both employers and graduates regarding the support available, with 66% of employers citing the cost of workplace adjustments as a barrier when surveyed and less than a quarter of adults with disabilities in the UK saying that they've received Access to Work support.3

Moreover, recent research from Policy Connect suggests that students with disabilities aren't always able to find the appropriate support when seeking advice regarding their transition from education to employment. Just 23% of people surveyed answered 'yes' when asked if they had received any careers advice, work placements, or information about transitioning into employment or further study which were tailored to them as a disabled student - while 6% said that this advice was helpful.4

Reflection on activities

In spite of the additional challenges that first-degree graduates with disabilities may face when looking for employment, more than two thirds (69.6%) managed to find full or part-time employment 15 months after graduation with just under two thirds (65.7%) working in professional-level jobs. In addition, 53% of those in employment either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement 'I am utilising what I learnt during my studies in my current work'. They were also asked if their current work was meaningful, a question to which the majority (69.6%) responded affirmatively; and finally, nearly two thirds (62.8%) indicated that their work fits with their future plans.5

These findings suggest that, even though graduates with disabilities face barriers that others do not when trying to transition from higher education to employment, when they do find employment the majority of these graduates are not only using the skills that they acquired during their studies but are also working in meaningful roles that fit into their career plans 15 months after graduation.


  1. Ethnic minority graduates with disabilities were most likely to find employment if they graduated with a technology, engineering and maths (84.8%) or creative arts (84%) degree. However a large amount of creative arts graduates are in part-time employment.
  3. Reimagining the workplace: disability and inclusive employment, Leonard Cheshire, 2019.
  5. However, students with disabilities were also slightly more likely than others to disagree with each of the aforementioned statements.

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