Chris Percy is an independent researcher and policy adviser

As UK Higher Education professionals know, salary is often a prominent measure of graduate career success and the perceived value of degree courses.

But as the labour market evolves away from a ‘job for life’ model, this metric is even less sufficient than it once was.

In areas like the arts or public sector in particular, we can’t hope to measure success based purely on how much a graduate earns in their first years post-graduation.

Career Satisfaction Beyond Salary-Linked Benefits

To tackle this, the Edge Foundation recently conducted research to identify factors contributing to career satisfaction beyond salary-linked benefits.

This used data from the graduate destination surveys commissioned by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The data comprised self-reported graduate career satisfaction six months after graduation and 3.5 years after graduation.

The research focused on full-time undergraduates who went straight into work after finishing their degrees.

Eight Career-Related Factors of Higher Education Provision 

The regression analyses relate eight key aspects of graduates’ reported university experience and degree relevance to their career outcomes, termed here as “career factors”:

1. Great Transferable Skills Support?

  1. Communicate effectively in your work
  2. Make good decisions in your workplace
  3. Make effective use of information and communication technology in your work
  4. Be innovative in the workplace
  5. Work effectively with numbers
  6. Take initiative and personal responsibility in your work
  7. Solve problems in your work
  8. Work effectively with others
2. Degree Grade Important?
3. Degree Subject Important?
4. Degree Type Important?
5. Degree as Evidence of Skills?
6. Work Experience in Degree?
7. Qualification Formally Required?
8. First Job via University?

Our study "Drivers of early career success for UK undergraduates: An analysis of graduate destinations surveys" found that – of the eight career-related factors analysed – support for transferable skills had the strongest relationship to career satisfaction.

Graduates who were positive about gaining transferable skills at university (things like flexibility, self-management, creativity, determination and resilience) reported higher job satisfaction.

Employer surveys have also shown that these skills are of high importance. Clearly, then, these skills are a vital part of the HE offering.

How can we better integrate transferable skills into the university experience?

One example is Cardiff University’s National Software Academy (NSA). The NSA has ormalised the teaching of transferable skills by articulating the skills to be achieved into each module. Relevant skills are consistently addressed and assessed. Students acquire them in several ways, for instance through regular workshops with external experts.

They learn how to do things like deliver professional presentations, while the physical learning environment emulates the workplace. Crucially, students have regular opportunities to put these skills into practice via real-world projects and work placements.

Career Relevance Of Degree Subject

The research also found strong links between career satisfaction and the relevance of a student’s degree subject to their job. Yet less than 50% of those surveyed reported that their degree subject was actually important for their entry into the workplace. This suggests the potential to enhance career satisfaction with degrees linked more closely to the labour market and shaped to students’ aspirations. Access to work experience and relevant employer interactions could help. Universities could also help students better understand how their area of study links to key industries or employers.

A good example is Salford University. Their Industry Collaboration Strategy facilitates greater interaction between students, industry and community partners. Input from industry professionals ensures that degree courses are relevant to the issues graduates are likely to face in careers related to their area of study.

Relevant skills are taught via the curriculum (e.g. employer projects) but also through work placements. Access to labour market intelligence also helps students identify and pursue potential career paths. Importantly, this has proved successful even in subject areas like the humanities, which are not always strongly associated with specific vocations.

University Supported Career Planning

Finally, our research identified a positive link between career satisfaction and a proactive approach by universities to supporting students’ career planning. For instance, graduates who said they found a job through university (e.g. via careers service or their course) earned £1.2K more per year on average than those who found jobs via a recruitment agency or website (the most common route). Yet only 8% of graduates found their first jobs with this support. In addition, better career planning and prior preparation resulted in greater career consistency over time, which in turn was associated with higher career satisfaction.

HE careers services have potential to play a greater role than some presently do. Take, for instance, the Careers and Employability Service at Sheffield Hallam University. Rather than acting as a standalone service, they work across university departments to provide specialist placement support, job search advice and staff CPD. Each student is also allocated their own support, academic and employment supervisor, who offers careers and one-to-one business advice (e.g. how to start a company).

A Fifth of Graduates Don't Feel Well Supported - Where Do We Go From Here?

More than 70% of graduates in our study were positive about how HE prepared them for the future. While this sounds reasonable, it still means over a fifth do not feel well supported. Where to go from here? A good starting point for those seeking reform is the Skills Builder Partnership’s employability skills framework.

Edge can also help. We partner with many universities who adopt new approaches, and today (2 Dec), are hosting a research symposium exploring three innovative HE models in the UK. We’d love to see you there.

Katherine Emms is a researcher at the Edge Foundation, an independent education charity dedicated to transforming the way young people develop the skills and attitudes they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Chris Percy is an independent researcher and policy adviser who focuses on school-to-work transitions, lifelong career pathways and the changing world of work.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel shared a video in channel. 23 hours 58 minutes ago

Educating yourself in Prison: an inside job

Educating yourself in Prison: an inside job

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 23 hours 59 minutes ago

RT @NCFE: ‘For as long as humans have worked, and whatever industry they may have worked in, success has always been predicated on having t…
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page