Graduate workforce – Patterns and Trends

Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Yesterday Universities UK published its latest Patterns and Trends report which presents a range of data on the changing size and shape of UK higher education.  Why does this interest us?  Well, it tells us about the changing nature of qualifications in the workforce, and the growing importance of graduates in the mix.

The report focuses on the decade between 2004–05 and 2013–14, and some key findings include:

Number of Qualifications – Between 2004–05 and 2013–14 the number of higher education (HE) qualifications awarded each year increased by 144,515 to a total of almost 778,000.

Gender split – In 2013–14, 56.1% of students were female.

Non-EU international students – The proportion of students coming from outside the EU increased from 9.0% in 2004-05 to 13.5% in 2013-14.

Part-time – Part-time student numbers continue to decline; full-time students now make up nearly three-quarters of the student body, up from just over 60% in 2004–05.

Disadvantaged backgrounds – The student body has become more diverse in terms of student background, with 42% more students from disadvantaged backgrounds on full-time first degree programmes in 2014 than in 2005.

Employment – Figures show that graduates have had consistently lower unemployment rates compared with non-graduates, even during recessions. Latest HESA data show that 95% of the class of 2010–11 were employed or undertaking further study three and a half years after graduating.

We now delve into the employment sections of the report, which we abbreviate here for you…

HE qualifications improve employment prospects. The 2013–14 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey showed that six months after their course 92% of other undergraduate, 89% of first degree and 92% of postgraduate students were in work or doing further study.

Three and a half years after graduating, 94.9% of the class of 2010–11 were in employment or further study and were earning on average £26,000.

Office for National Statistics figures show that graduates have lower unemployment rates, even in recessions. Although unemployment rates have risen since 2008, particularly for recent graduates, they have remained considerably below those of non-graduates.

Graduates earn more, and a government report shows that female and male graduates can expect to boost their lifetime earnings by £250,000 and £165,000 respectively.

An increasing proportion of the UK population is going to university, and more than half of people in their thirties now have HE qualifications, up from just 36.4% (for those aged 30–34) and 31.4% (for those aged 35–39) just ten years ago.


The number of graduates in employment has increased in all age groups over the past ten years, but the UK is not alone in this increase as other advanced economies are also developing their labour force.

The UK has increased the proportion of highly skilled young adults from 32.6% of the population thirty years ago (the proportion of 55 to 64-year-olds with higher education qualifications) to 47.9% (the proportion of 25 to 34-year-olds with the same qualifications).

However, this growth has been smaller than in many of our competitors, and the proportion of young adults with higher education qualifications remains lower than in many competitor economies.


The increase in the proportion of graduates internationally is meeting a growing demand for higher-level skills in the workforce as the global economy changes.

Looking into the future, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has calculated that the proportion of those in employment with undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications – which they use as an indication of the demand for these skills – will rise from 28.7% in 2002 to 51.3% in 2022, while those employed with skills below this level will fall from 71.4% in 2002 to less than half, 48.7%, in 2022.

What is clear from the data is that as the economy changes graduates will play an increasingly central role in the UK workforce.


The full UUK report is available here.


Dr Deborah Watson

Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.