The release of new Graduate Outcomes data means it's time to find out how 2019/20 graduates fared entering the labour market during the COVID-19 pandemic
1. The graduate jobs market has been resilient throughout the pandemic
The 2019/20 graduate cohort graduated1 during the early months of the pandemic when there were real fears that we would see significant disruption in the graduate labour market as vacancies collapsed and employers ceased recruiting.2 Consequently, it was widely assumed that there would be noticeable differences in the outcomes of this cohort 15 months after graduation compared to previous ones.
However, Graduate Outcomes 2019/20 data suggests otherwise with the vast majority (68%) of UK-domiciled graduates finding full (57%) or part-time (11%) employment 15 months after graduation - with a further 10% combining work and further study. And at 6%, the percentage of unemployed graduates was down 1% in comparison to the 2018/19 survey.
Meanwhile, just 59% of graduates domiciled outside of the UK were employed on a full (52%) or part-time (7%) basis when surveyed - they were also nearly twice as likely to be in full time further study.
Furthermore, there were also slight differences between male and female graduates with 71% of female graduates finding full (58%) or part-time (13%) employment 15 months after graduation compared to 70% of men (59% and 11%). Men (4%) were also more likely to be unemployed than women (6%) when surveyed.
Those with disabilities (52%) were less likely to find full-time employment than those without them (60%). However, at 52%, full-time employment levels for graduates with disabilities have actually surpassed pre-pandemic levels, suggesting that graduates with disabilities may have benefited slightly from 'the increasing potential for remote working in many professional occupations'.3
2. A positive correlation exists between degree classification and employment rates
Some 65% of first-degree graduates were in full (54%) or part-time employment when surveyed, with a further 11% combining work with further studies. Interestingly, the percentage of first degree graduates in full-time employment increased from 52% in the survey of 2018/19 graduates to 54% among 2019/20 graduates, with the proportion of those in full-time employment being highest among those who achieved a first class honours degree.
While it has been suggested that employers no longer value first class honours degrees as they once did, with many proclaiming that they’re becoming reluctant to appoint graduates on this basis, the available data illustrates a different picture.4 2019/20 first degree graduates with a first class honours degree were not only more likely to be employed than their peers, but we also find a positive correlation between degree classification and rate of full-time employment.
Degree classification,Rate of full-time employment First class honours ,55 Upper second class honours ,53 Lower second class honours ,52 Third class honours/Pass ,52
HESA Graduate Outcomes 2019/20
Those with a third class honours degree were the most likely to be unemployed 15 months after graduation with 10% saying this when asked - compared to 6% for the wider group. However, this is an improvement on the previous cohort with 12% of 2018/19 graduates with a third class degree reporting that they were unemployed when surveyed.
3. Graduates who studied science subjects reported better outcomes
Graduates who studied science subjects (69%) were more likely to be in full (60%) or part-time (9%) employment than their peers who studied non-science subjects. However, with 55% in full-time employment and 12% in part time employment, the majority of graduates who studied non-science subjects were also able to find employment 15 months after graduation.
|Subject area||Percentage in high-skilled employment|
|Medicine & dentistry||98%|
|Subjects allied to medicine||92%|
|Architecture building and planning||88%|
|Subject area||Percentage in high-skilled employment|
|Education and teaching||87%|
|Combined and general studies||76%|
|Geography earth and environmental sciences||71%|
The vast majority of both science (82%) and non-science (71%) graduates were in highly skilled employment when surveyed, with 7 in 10 who graduated from an undergraduate course in 2019/20 indicating this, while 9 in 10 who graduated from a postgraduate course did the same.
And although, the majority of both design, and creative and performing arts graduates (60%) and media, journalism and communications graduates (67%) were in high-skilled jobs 15 months after graduating; nearly a quarter (23%) of working graduates who studied design, and creative and performing arts reported that they were in low-skilled jobs, with a fifth (19%) of media, journalism and communications graduates reporting the same. Similarly, 21% of working graduates who studied agriculture, food and related studies were in low skilled jobs when surveyed, with just two-fifths of these graduates finding high-skilled employment.
Those who graduated from science courses also reported higher earnings than their peers who graduated from a non-science course. The five subject areas with the highest earning graduates were all science courses, while four of the five with the lowest earning graduates were non-science courses.
|Subject area||Median salary|
|Medicine and dentistry||£34,000|
|Engineering and technology||£28,000|
|Subject area||Median salary|
|Historical, philosophical and religious studies||£23,000|
|Media, journalism and communications||£21,000|
|Design, and creative and performing arts||£20,000|
4. Two-fifths of first degree graduates were earning over £27,000
Overall, nearly half (48%) of 2019/20 graduates in full-time paid UK employment were earning over £27,000 15 months after graduation, with the £24,000 to £26,999 salary band containing the highest proportion of graduates. On the other hand 52% were earning a salary below £27,000 when surveyed.
We also find differences in earnings between groups with 58% of women in full-time paid UK employment earning a salary below £27,000 compared to 45% of men. Moreover, older graduates were much more likely to be earning a salary over 30,000 with 55% of those 25 and older reporting this compared to 25% of those between 21 and 24 and 15% of those 20 and under.
If we take a look at the earnings of first-degree graduates we can see that two-fifths (38%) of 2019/20 first-degree graduates in full-time paid UK employment were earning over £27,000 15 months after graduation, while 62% were earning a salary below £27,000. And similar to the overall cohort, male first degree graduates (55%) were less likely to report earnings below £27,000 than their female counterparts (67%).
5. There's no place like home
Research into the jobseeking behavior of recent graduates has repeatedly shown that most graduates are 'Loyals' - these are graduates that not only stay within their home region for university but they also go on to find employment within that region.5 2019/20 Graduate Outcomes data shows a continuation of this trend with the majority of graduates in UK work at the time of the survey working in the same region as that which they were domiciled from.
With 53% of graduates from the East of England working in the same region as that which they were domiciled from, this region had the lowest percentage of Loyals. On the other hand, nearly 9 in 10 Scottish graduates find employment within the region from which they were domiciled, it being the region with the most graduates who can be classified as Loyals.
Previous research has also shown that London receives more incoming graduates than any other region in the UK. Similarly, Graduate Outcomes data shows London to be the most popular destination for 2019/20 graduates (followed by the South East (13%) and the North West (12%)), with 27% of English graduates finding employment in London fifteen months after graduation - receiving more incoming graduates from the South East (24%) East of England (24%) than anywhere else.
- The data in this article was taken from the HESA 2019/20 Graduate Outcomes Survey
- The graduate labour market in 2020, Luminate, 2021.
- The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Graduate Outcomes 2019/20, HESA, 2022.
- Graduate outcomes 2019-20: the sector, WONKHE, 2022.
- Graduate migration patterns in the UK, Luminate, 2021.
Was this page useful?
Thank you for your feedback