Higher education and beyond

04 July 2013

A new report examines the degree outcomes and later employment of students who began full-time degree courses in the 2006-07 academic year. Published by HEFCE, the report allows us for the first time to map the success of university entrants over time, on the basis of their entry characteristics, degree subject and choice of institution.

The report analyses data on the 225,765 young, UK-domiciled students who started full-time first degree courses at higher education institutions in the academic year 2006‑07 [Note 2]. It looks at degree attainment and level, and at later employment or study and whether this is at graduate level.

For context, the report charts the cohort’s predecessors’ outcomes from 2002-03 onwards. This section shows that overall from 2002-03 to 2006-07, the proportion of students gaining first or upper second degrees increased each year, while the proportion who did not qualify fell. Following a dip, those among the 2006-07 cohort who proceeded from qualification to employment or further study had recovered almost to 2002-03 levels.

The main body of the report classifies students by sex, ethnicity, disability, school type, qualifications on entry and POLAR3 classification [Note 3], as well as by subject studied and type of institution. It uses sector-adjusted averages to compare the actual outcomes achieved by these various groups with those which would have been expected statistically from the student profile.

This approach reveals some marked differences in performance. For example, students who received the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) performed better than expected given other aspects of their profile, whereas disabled students not receiving DSA performed below expectations. Other differences apply by ethnic group, POLAR quintile, gender and school background. One notable finding is that students who entered higher education from state schools attained higher than expected employment outcomes given their entry profiles, but performed significantly less well than their peers from independent schools in terms of securing a graduate job or progressing to further study.

Sarah Howls, Head of Student Opportunity at HEFCE, said:

'Seeking to understand and, where we can, address the reasons for these differences remains a key priority. For example, the analysis of disabled students supports the idea that individual funding for these students alongside the investments institutions make to support them is the best way to deliver the best outcomes. The challenge is therefore to understand the particular circumstances of those disabled students who do not claim DSA and to devise appropriate means of support for them.

'One caveat is that because the analysis only takes account of certain factors, it cannot account for the impact other factors (such as part-time working, caring responsibilities and so forth) might have on student outcomes. Additionally, those types of institution which have done most to widen participation will have the most diverse student bodies, and may consequently have particularly marked differential outcomes.

'It remains a high priority, therefore, that these institutions are supported in further developing their understanding of and response to the diverse needs of their students so that they all realise their full potential and secure the best possible outcomes.'


  1. Read the report.
  2. In the context of the 2006-07 cohort, ‘young’ means under 21 on 30 September 2006.
  3. POLAR3 is an area-based measure of young participation rates in HE, which classifies students into one of five quintiles based on their home postcode prior to commencing their first degree studies. Quintile 1 areas are those where there is low participation in HE by young people, who are therefore less likely to go on to HE than those from a quintile 5 area. More information is available in ‘POLAR3: Young participation rates in higher education’ (HEFCE 2012/26).

Page last updated 4 July 2013

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