Are graduates settling for non-graduate jobs?

7 September 2015
What was claimed

58.8% of graduates are in non-graduate jobs.

Our verdict

This figure is based on a survey from 2010. Separate figures from earlier this year paint a different picture.

"58.8 per cent of UK graduates have ended up in non-graduate jobs…"

The Independent, 19 August 2015

58.8% of UK graduates have ended up in non-graduate jobs, according to several outlets. But the Chief Executive of Universities UK disputes this figure.

With the new academic year fast approaching, we've taken a look. The figure is based on graduates' responses to a 2010 survey, which asked how many years of education someone else would need to apply for their job.

More recent figures, from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), show that in the second quarter of 2015, 66.4% of working age graduates in England were in high skilled jobs. That excludes those with qualifications higher than a graduate degree—78.6% of postgraduates had a high skilled job.

The 58.8 % figure comes from a five year old survey

The 58.8% figure comes from a report published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), in which they report on their own analysis of the European Social Survey (ESS).

The survey is from 2010, which probably wasn't a typical year for graduates; unemployment was higher and graduates may have been more likely to "settle" for a less suitable role. So it may not be a good reflection of experiences in 2015.

Unfortunately, there's no more recent set of data from the ESS on this topic.

It uses a subjective definition of a graduate job

The ESS didn't ask people whether they were in a graduate job. Instead, it asked people how many years of education (beyond compulsory education) someone would need in order to apply for their current job.

The CIPD conducted its own analysis of this data, creating its own definition of a graduate job: a job which the post-holder believes requires an applicant to have 15-16 years of education in total. They say that this represents the number of years of education someone would typically have after completing an undergraduate degree course.

So there's an element of subjectivity there—if for some reason graduates were likely to underestimate the skills needed in their job that would mean more of them would appear in the survey as having non-graduate roles. The opposite is equally possible, of course.

Other sources suggest that fewer graduates are in a non-graduate job

While there are no official figures for "graduate jobs", there is one for "high skilled jobs" and these are sometimes used interchangeably.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimates that in the second quarter of 2015 66.4% of working age graduates in England (which excludes those with qualifications higher than a graduate degree) were in high skilled jobs, and that 3.0% were unemployed.

From the figures we can deduce that the highest possible proportion of all working age graduates that aren't in a high skilled job is 30.6%.

Update 8 September 2015

This article has been updated with new graduate labour market statistics published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

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