Millions of graduates not in professional jobs

One persistent line in the More Means Worse argument is that we don’t need all these graduates; many of them don’t go into graduate jobs.  This compounds two aspects of the broader argument – graduate skills/attributes aren’t needed in jobs that recruit graduates and that we are over-supplying such graduates anyway.

It makes an appearance at the end of this finance video for the Telegraph. We are told that “around half of students end up in a job that didn’t require a degree in the first place” and “this has left millions to question whether that degree was nothing but an expensive mistake”.

That would be shocking – but let’s look at that claim.


‘Millions’ that’s a big number. It’s an impressive number. It’s an unlikely number.

In the UK publicly funded universities are required to undertake an exercise to complete a Destination of Leavers in Higher Education (DLHE) survey.  That’s done six months after graduation. Universities collect the occupation (or otherwise) of the graduates and these are then collated nationally. A judgment is made as to whether this is a ‘professional’ ie graduate level job. Of course this is contentious. Different careers have different relationships with HE – some offer an education sufficient to take up the job (nursing is a good example), others provide exemption from professional exams, others do not have a direct professional link at all.  Six months is a complex date for many occupations – a better data solution is needed.

HESA published their latest collation on 23 July.  This makes it the easiest job in the world to dismiss the claim that ‘millions end up with non-graduate job’. There are 245650 graduates in it. There isn’t data about ‘millions’ of students.

There is data that 55865 of the 178930 who were in employment were doing so in a ‘non-professional’ role. So 68% of those in work were in a professional role – that’s a flat contradiction of this claim:

“around half of students end up in a job that didn’t require a degree in the first place”

Of course, you can debate whether these are ‘professional’ or not – but that’s what we have data on.  So with 55k in non-professional roles – you’ll need to aggregate some 20 years of graduates to get to one million.

So it’s tosh. My annoyance is that it is bundled at the back of some relatively factual information on student loans – a real sting in the tail (and tale). You can take out a loan; it might cost you more than you thought (especially if the government later changes the repayment terms), but apparently millions are questioning “whether that degree was nothing but an expensive mistake”.

No, they’re not.

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3 thoughts on “Millions of graduates not in professional jobs

  1. Pingback: Who needs a degree anyway? | moremeansbetter

    • It’s generally accepted that higher education is a positional good, and as such students (as rational well-informed consumers) choose the ‘best’ university, ie the best they can ‘afford’. Markets run on both the price, and the ability of the student to be selected. So, if you had the ability to get into any college, you’d pick the ‘best’, and simialrly if you could afford to pay at fees the ‘best’, you’d head there. This is compounded by the notion that other people rely on the selection powers of universities for later decisions. If you were at an elite place for your first degree, you might stand a better chance of getting onto a graduate course or getting into a prestigious job. Universities are aware of this, and so, even if they could, they’ll avoid running ‘cheap’ courses (look at league tables of MBA fees).

      Of course, that doesn’t quite work out – students don’t all position themselves against the ‘best’ they can afford – there are plenty of other factors that drive their choices.

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