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News | Employability

Focus on salaries undermines retaining graduates locally, suggests report

A major new research report from social mobility organisation the Bridge Group, funded by higher education charity the UPP Foundation, finds that the current narrative of graduate success – which focusses on high salaries – is neither accurate nor inclusive.

The report’s conclusions – based on a national quantitative study, and interviews with 35 graduates from four universities (University of Exeter, University of Hull, University of Lincoln, University of Sunderland) and 11 employers with links to those universities shows that decisions to stay local after graduating are guided by considerations of wellbeing, financial independence and health. Graduates want to have ‘meaningful’ careers, rather than simply high salaries, and to be able to live in places and environments which appeal to them.

The report also shows:

  • 51% of graduates in the UK remain local to their university after graduation. Those who commuted to university as students were more likely to stay (76%), but 39% of those who did not commute also stayed on.
  • Graduates who stayed in the region of their university after graduating were as likely as graduates who moved away to report that they were in paid employment and that their current activity was on track with their future plans.
  • Graduates who stay on in the region are more likely to be from lower socio-economic backgrounds (in terms of the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD)), more likely to represent the first generation of their family to attend university and more likely to be mature (25 years old and above on entry).
  • There is a mismatch between employers’ assumptions and the behaviours of graduates.  Employers believe that graduates want to move ‘out to move up’, but this is contradicted by the finding that 51% of graduates stay in the region.

The report makes several recommendations to change assumptions and rethink the way graduate success is measured so they  align with what graduates actually value, and be inclusive to students from all socio-economic backgrounds in all parts of the UK. These include:

  • Rethinking the metrics used to measure graduate success, so that students that study and remain local are valued by universities.
  • Ensuring the right kind of advice is available to them through university careers services.
  • Assisting SMEs based in the UK’s regions with hiring graduate talent.

The report will be launched on Tuesday 14 September at an event co-hosted by the Bridge Group, UPP Foundation and Civic University Network.

Writing in the report’s Foreword, former Universities Minister and Chair of the UPP Foundation Advisory Board, The Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP said: “This report by the Bridge Group highlights the need for why we need a more inclusive, careful and more balanced understanding of how we define successful graduate outcomes. Data of course remains important, but we must start to refocus on how we measure value rather than the price of higher education.”

Dr Penelope Griffin, Director of Higher Education and Impact at the Bridge Group, said: “This report shows that while graduate retention in the regions is under-valued, there are practical steps that we can take to address this – and to support its growth. Graduate retention makes a significant contribution to levelling-up in the regions.”

Richard Brabner, Director of the UPP Foundation, said: “Universities have been criticised for pulling talent away from the regions and towards metropolitan cities, but the reality is much more nuanced.

“All universities play a key role in their local economies, and should be judged on the basis of meeting the values and expectations of their graduates, rather than simply crude salary data”

Notes to editors:

  1. The UPP Foundation was created in 2016 by University Partnerships Programme (UPP), the leading provider of on campus student accommodation infrastructure and support services in the UK.  The UPP Foundation is a registered charity that offers grants to universities, charities and other higher education bodies. In recent years, as higher education has expanded, the burden of paying for a degree has shifted towards the individual. This presents difficulties in maintaining the ‘University for the Public Good’, as well as ensuring there is greater equity in going to, succeeding at and benefiting from the university experience. The UPP Foundation helps universities and the wider higher education sector overcome these challenges.

  2. The Bridge Group is a non-profit consultancy and charity that uses research to promote social equality. We do this by supporting organisations of all kinds with independent expertise, research, and practical know-how to enable them to make real and lasting impact on socio-economic diversity and social equality. Our objective is to make real and meaningful change for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds in relation to progression to higher education; graduate outcomes; and hiring and progression within the professions.

  3. Secondary data analysis was undertaken using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which supplied data on the demographics of full-time students, their undergraduate degree outcomes and responses to the Graduate Outcomes Survey.[1]The most recently available Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS) data was used, with graduates completing this survey 15 months post-graduation in 2017-18. Data was available for 189,890 graduates. We gathered qualitative data via interviews with 35 graduates who had remained local to the university after graduation for employment. These graduates had studied at one of  four universities – University of Exeter, University of Hull, University of Lincoln, University of Sunderland. We also interviewed 11 employers with links to those universities. We analysed interview data to draw out recurring themes and all comments quoted are representative of these themes.

[1] Further information about the survey can be found at:

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