From education to employment

Futuretrack Ten years on – Life after Graduation

Futuretrack: The most extensive investigation of the relationship between higher education and employment ever undertaken in the UK 

The information collected and analysed at this fifth stage of the Futuretrack Longitudinal Study has enabled the report authors to assess and attempt to achieve better understanding of how far the different clusters of knowledge and skills that these 2009/10 graduates acquired in HE has enabled them to obtain appropriate employment, develop careers and contribute to the economy.

This report focussed on three longer-term outcomes:

  1. Occupations
  2. Earnings, and
  3. The nonpecuniary aspects of their jobs.

They looked at the routes they took to achieve these outcomes, sometimes via postgraduate education or further professional training, and examined the intergenerational mobility they experienced.

They provided evidence that has addressed these questions and our findings are summarised earlier in this concluding chapter and discussed more fully in the report.



They conclude by identifying key areas where new or invigorated directions for policies are required, along with research priorities that can hopefully be addressed in the future:

  1. Employers, professional associations, and governmental policymakers must address the continuing and growing gender gap in graduate earnings
  2. HEIs, employers and policy makers need to consider how to prevent the seeming ossification of social mobility to achieve fairer access to opportunities
  3. The development of an effective means of recognising and monitoring the wider benefits of graduate study to individuals, communities, and society as a whole
  4. Identify the emergence of skills shortages or over supply of graduate labour, by detailed and up-to-date analysis of earnings differences by subject of degree and the knowledge and skills acquired
  5. Continuation of long-term longitudinal studies of graduates and the creation of new such studies to enable further cross cohort comparisons of graduates’ careers and opportunities

Futuretrack surveyed applicants for full-time undergraduate courses who filled in their UCAS application in 2005/06 

17 Jul 2019: All 2005-6 UCAS applicants were invited by UCAS to access the Futuretrack online survey via a secure link which guaranteed that responses would be treated in confidence, seen only by the research team, with no individual level information passed to any third party or published in a way that breached this confidentiality – and it attracted great interest among students.

The database contains usable responses from just under 138,000 respondents. Although the response rate fell at each stage from the initial 130,000 members of the cohort who completed the Stage 1 survey, it has continued to provide robust and comprehensive data to clarify the socio-economic and educational variables that determine career decision-making, access to and use of career information, attracted more members from the 2005-6 applicant cohort as it proceeded and, most recently, has investigated the early career experiences of graduate respondents who completed their degrees in 2009 and 2010.

These represent the full spectrum of full-time undergraduate course-leavers, from the longest-established and most elite to the newest and most recently-established universities and higher education colleges, covering the full range of undergraduate courses, subjects of study and disciplines. As of 01 April 2018, the new Futuretrack stage 5 will catch up with the Futuretrackers, eight to nine years since their graduation.

The diversity of the population involved and the scope of the study makes it particularly valuable as a source of data:

  • it is longitudinal
  • it includes overseas students studying on undergraduate programmes in the UK as well as UK-domiciled respondents;
  • the research team is multi-disciplinary;
  • it includes UCAS applicants who deferred, took gap years, did not complete courses, and some who never proceeded to full-time HE and took different career paths;
  • because it was drawn from the entire population of UCAS 2005/06 applicants, so that the full applicant profile is known, the responses could be weighted at each survey stage to be representative of the original population;
  • the research process has benefited from support and advice from representatives of all the main HE stakeholders’ organisations, including government and policy communities, but it has remained wholly independent academic research research, sponsored by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit with supplementary funding from the Institute for Employment Research reserves (stages 1-4), and by the Nuffield Foundation (stage 5). The sole interest of both the research team and the sponsor is in establishing the most accurate possible account of the challenges and opportunities encountered by undergraduates and graduate labour market entrants, to provide robust evidence to inform all those with an interest in the relationship between higher education, career decision-making and employment.

Findings have been and will continue to be presented to UK policy and practitioner stakeholder organisations, representatives of which are involved in the projects advisory committee, consulted throughout the programme and given access to findings prior to publication, and findings are being widely presented at UK and overseas academic and practitioner conferences.

The programme of research for Futuretrack stages 1-4 was directed by Professor Kate Purcell, working closely with Professor Peter Elias, who worked throughout with her on the survey design and statistical management. For stages 1-4, the research was sponsored by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit HESCU, and members of the HECSU research team have also contributed to analysis of findings, particularly related to careers guidance material. Futuretrack stage 5 is led by a new research team, directed by Professor Peter Elias. Professor Purcell continues to work on the project on a part-time basis. Further Institute researchers are co-opted from time to time to contribute to particular aspects of analysis. For stage 5, the project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation


The Longitudinal Survey

17 Jul 2019: Futuretrack is a primarily quantitative longitudinal study of UCAS 2005-6 applicants, tracked in detail since they applied to study on a full-time undergraduate course as they followed a variety of routes through higher education or parallel to it, to investigate the impact of educational and career decisions on access to opportunities and subsequent career routes. It has involved a series of online surveys following applicants as they proceeded through higher education or took different career paths into the labour market, between April 2006 and March 2012. Further follow-up research on particular sub-groups of respondents have been undertaken and it is hope that more research on the Futuretrack cohort will be will be conducted in the future.

Stage 1 Undertaken in Autumn 2006 as applicants were preparing to enter higher education examined the key factors related to the success or otherwise of an application to study full-time in a UK higher education institution in 2006.

  • Respondent’s reasons for applying to enter higher education (HE) – or not;
  • students’ reasons for their choices of particular courses, universities and college;
  • how students envisaged that their studies would be funded, and their views about this;
  • experiences of the HE application process;
  • respondents’ attitudes, values and views about HE policy and the value of HE.

The key findings were that motivations to enter higher education and access to information had a clear impact on the likelihood of respondents making a successful application and embarking on a suitable course. The findings also revealed that most students were broadly happy with their academic experience, but that finances and the need to undertake paid employment were a continuing concern. Wide discrepancies were shown, however, in both students’ experience of the HE process and the resources available to them, and the extent to which they had access to and were able to take advantage of extra-curricular opportunities that being a full-time student provides. There was also evidence that students were not making full use of the careers services available to them. A high proportion of those who did not proceed into higher education or who subsequently left intended to re-enter HE within the next three years.

Stage 2 Undertaken during Summer/Autumn 2007 examined and investigated what had happened and if attitudes had changed:  

  • who had obtained places and who had gone on to HE – or had not;
  • (for most) their evaluation of the HE experience after a year as a student;
  • obstacles encountered and access to opportunities before and during studies;
  • the impact of HE context on outcomes and attitudes (region, type of HE institution, travel, accommodation and other resources available to them);
  • current career aspirations and use of careers guidance;
  • how students managed their finances, and their experiences of and attitudes to debt;
  • what happened to those who had not gone on to full-time study, and what were their plans for the future.

Stage 3 Spring/Summer 2009, repeated in 2010, focussed on plans for the transition from undergraduate to graduate education and entry into the labour market. Students in the final term of a three or four year degree programme were asked about:

  • their use of careers information and guidance services;
  • postgraduate study plans;
  • experiences and attitudes towards job-seeking and career planning;
  • their evaluation of their HE experiences, including participation in extra-curricular activities;
  • their perceptions of the opportunities and obstacles that faced them as they prepared to make the transition to the next stage of their careers;
  • the debts they had accumulated so far as students;
  • those who had not proceeded to HE were again asked about their career-related experiences and attitudes towards training and education.

Stage 4 Conducted in Autumn/Winter 2011 and 2012 ‘Futuretrackers’ in employment. This stage compared the experiences of those who did not study full-time with those who did, and surveyed career outcomes so far: in particular, the following issues:

  • early graduate career development in a very demanding recessionary context;
  • different career paths of different groups of graduates;
  • the impact of careers advice and guidance and outcomes;
  • the value of higher education experience and credentials;
  • the evaluation of the fit between education and outcomes;
  • the impact of long-term career plans and short-term decisions, and vice versa;
  • educational, training and career guidance needs;
  • integration into the graduate labour market: winners, losers, and what can we learn from their experience?

The findings from all the survey stages can be accessed on Warwick’s Findings so Far page. 

Futuretrack analyses student motivations for entering HE 

26 Sept 2006: More than 450,000 students have taken part in a “ground-breaking” new survey revealing the motivations behind applications to university.

“Futuretrack”, which claims to be the “largest research project of its kind”, surveyed a wide range of influences and motivations for those wishing to apply for full-time undergraduate courses in areas as expansive as attitudes to debt, sources of income, views on living away from home and the reputation of their chosen institution.

Commissioned by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) and led by Professors Kate Purcell and Peter Elias from the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick, the research revealed that 70% of last year’s university applicants claimed university as part of their “long-term career plan”.

The research also indicated student perception on debt; three quarters of those questioned responded to debt as placing an “unreasonable burden on graduates”, yet recent applicants highlighted indifference, with 73% agreeing that student loans were a good idea.

A statement released last week noted: “It is clear that, as a more diverse population chooses to go to university, greater emphasis is being placed on long-term employment prospects when choosing institutions and courses”.

“Further, teachers and careers advisers in schools are playing a significant role in advising and encouraging those “first generation” students whose parents do not necessarily have the experience to advise them”.

The study will be discussed in a live webchat on Tuesday 26th September with Professor Kate Purcell and Jane Artess, Research Manager at HECSU, at between 3.30pm and 4pm.

Vijay Pattni

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