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What do Masters graduates do? - Overview

May 2018

Employment outcomes are much more positive for graduates who study a Masters degree part time than for those who study full time, the latest data shows

A good deal of attention is focused on undergraduate outcomes. This is not surprising considering that the undergraduate cohort is populous and their outcomes form part of the basis for assessing the effectiveness of institutions.

But postgraduates get less attention. The postgraduate loan scheme came into effect in 2016 and had an immediate impact – indeed, 6,750 more students pursued Masters study in 2016 than 2015. Therefore, it is increasingly important to examine the outcomes for Masters graduates.

This article looks at what happens to UK-domiciled Masters graduates on completing their degrees in terms of outcomes, employment and location.


Unlike other common higher education (HE) qualifications, where full-time (or rarely part-time) graduates dominate, Masters graduates are much more evenly divided.

In 2016, 57% of leavers had studied full time. These graduates:

  • were mainly under 30 when starting their degree
  • typically started a Masters within a year of finishing their first degree.

The data shows that part-time leavers:

  • were usually over 30, with a significant proportion aged over 40
  • had an employment history and took vocational qualifications with a strong continued professional development (CPD) component.

These are two different populations, with different demographics and routes into study, and as a consequence it is best to treat the two groups separately.

Outcomes,Total FT,Total PT
Full time work,59.2,73
Part time work,13.3,12.2
Working and studying,3.2,3.7
Further study,12.4,3.1

The outcomes for part-time Masters graduates were significantly more positive than for their full-time counterparts. Indeed, the unemployment rate for full-time Masters graduates was higher than for full-time first-degree graduates.

Yet, when we examine employment outcomes, full-time Masters graduates were much more likely to be in good-quality skilled roles than full-time undergraduates.

We can infer that some of this disparity in unemployment rates stems from Masters graduates being more aspirational at the outset of their career than their undergraduate counterparts. Thus they can be more willing to delay employment until a suitable opportunity arises. Part-time Masters graduates, on the other hand, are very likely to be in work after graduation.

The other significant difference between full-time and part-time Masters graduates is that full-time graduates are much more likely to embark on another period of study on graduation. The large majority of this group had started a Doctorate within six months of receiving their Masters (72% in 2016), demonstrating the importance of the Masters as a bridge to doctoral study.

Employment and industries

Types of work,Total FT,Total PT
Health professionals,7.262042187,15.20168362
Education professionals,5.231398888,17.72009821
Legal · social and welfare professionals,9.675726729,6.152227289
Science professionals,4.454822122,3.086636268
Engineering and building professionals,5.430790219,5.598035777
Information technology professionals,4.491552104,3.991581901
Business · HR and finance professionals,15.10126981,10.90143809
Marketing · PR and sales professionals,7.398467835,3.991581901
Arts · design and media professionals,8.379683073,3.893370747
Other professionals · associate professionals and technicians,9.86987092,7.120308664
Childcare · health and education occupations,2.676041557,1.21360926
Clerical · secretarial and numerical clerks,6.023717074,2.693791652
Retail · catering · waiting and bar staff,5.551474446,1.031217117
Other occupations,3.772693882,1.480182392
Unknown occupations,0.110189946,0.084180989

Part-time graduates often return to their employers – many in the public sector – on graduating either at a professional level or in the management role for which their Masters has helped to prepare them.

Work outcomes are positive, with the very large majority entering (or continuing) professional employment. Health, education, government (both local and central) and research and development (R&D) are all common industries for part-time Masters graduates.

Full-time graduates enter a range of roles, often in business services, creative, engineering and legal or welfare jobs.

Most general Masters qualifications do not really open any new doors into the labour market and graduates from non-vocational subjects usually find themselves competing for roles alongside first-degree graduates. This may need monitoring as more graduates opt for Masters study.

But vocational Masters are a different matter. Data from the Employer Skills Survey 20151 from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) suggested that some of the most difficult skilled roles to fill in the current UK economy are supplied, not at degree level, but at vocational Masters level.

Radiography, social work, surveying and town planning are all in significant shortage, and many engineering disciplines are also in very short supply. Well-targeted Masters provision can play a key role in alleviating some of the country’s most serious occupational shortages.

Industries,Business studies FT,Business studies PT
Construction · engineering · research and development,10.79671198,7.296137339
Hospitality and tourism,3.261671409,1.090550904
Media and publishing,4.210138055,1.526771266
IT and telecoms,4.879333966,3.250545275
Legal and accountancy,3.045631784,1.815239569
Management consultancy,2.302666245,1.245338774
Other business and finance,9.621667194,6.508126363
Marketing and PR,2.155126989,0.724688665
Social care,4.91094952,4.284809681
Local and central govt,9.057856465,9.927531133
Arts · sports and leisure,6.802613553,4.122985999
Other industries,1.849509959,1.751917259

A variety of industries employ full-time Masters graduates. Like undergraduates, full-time Masters graduates are most likely to be found in the NHS, particularly in medicine, nursing and physiotherapy.

The next most important industry of employment is higher education, where Masters graduates often work as researchers, teaching staff and enter professional support roles. Other important industries include government, social work, and engineering and construction consultancy.


Location,Total FT,Total PT
North East,3.233777396,3.147077714
North West,9.115814353,9.976450439
Yorkshire and The Humber,5.779974216,7.32890887
East Midlands,4.549849592,5.523442518
West Midlands,5.634937688,7.343181332
East of England,6.247314138,6.964961108
South East,11.74795875,12.809534
South West,6.145251397,6.979233569
Northern Ireland,2.524709927,2.233640191
Guernsey · Jersey and the Isle of Man,0.188010314,0.199814458

Public sector employment is very important. Masters graduates tend to work in large cities with strong private sectors and skilled jobs markets in business services, engineering or the creative industries.

A third of full-time and a quarter of part-time Masters graduates from 2016 started their career in London – although 57% of Masters graduates working in London were already living there. Part-time Masters graduates were a little more evenly distributed around the UK, but were still more likely than their undergraduate counterparts to work in London.

Other cities with a demand for Masters qualifications included:

  • Manchester
  • Edinburgh
  • Oxford
  • Birmingham
  • Leeds
  • Edinburgh
  • Bristol
  • Cambridge
  • Sheffield
  • Belfast.

University leavers with no desire to work in one of these larger cities may need to bear that in mind if they consider Masters study.

Also in this series


  1. Employer Skills Survey 2015, UKCES, 2016.

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