Giving graduates the skills they need

Scotland’ students can be confident about their future after graduation.

The latest data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) on Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education show that graduates from Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions have the best record of securing professional level jobs in the UK.

The HESA figures show that 73% of Scottish university graduates are in graduate level jobs six months after graduation, which is 4% higher than their peers in the rest of the UK. Scotland’s graduates had the highest rate of positive destinations in the UK, which includes work and/or further study, at 89.9 per cent compared to the UK average of 88.8 per cent. Scotland’s graduates also command the highest mean starting salaries in the UK at £23,500, which is £1,000 higher than the UK average.

Employability is at the core of every Scottish university's learning and teaching strategy

Every Scottish university has employability embedded as a core part of their learning and teaching strategies. Each institution also has a set of graduate attributes which they look to develop in every student irrespective of their course or discipline studied, including being a reflective learner and problem solver and being able to use analysis and enquiry techniques effectively. These are the kind of wider ‘soft’ skills that employers look for.

Universities regularly engage with employers, professional bodies and others in the design, development and accreditation of the courses offered. At last count universities worked with over 115 professional bodies to this end.

This commitment to graduate employability has been paying dividends as Scotland’s universities have continued to improve the positive destinations of their graduates – maintaining their position as the best in the UK for seven years running.

“Our cost effective and supportive business environment, strong and highly skilled workforce, and world-class universities are not only enabling the development of Scottish companies but also attracting the world’s most innovative companies… to Scotland.”

– First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP

Business satisfaction with graduates

The latest Employer Perspectives Survey 2016, published in 2017, found more than four in five Scottish employers (84%) who recruit graduates from Scottish universities say they are well-prepared or very well-prepared for work.

Universities offer close engagement to meet the needs of industry through the development and delivery of Skills Investment Plans, close attention to labour market intelligence, through employer input into curriculum design and assessment, the development of new Graduate Apprenticeship models combining paid work and university-level study, and through embedding the ‘three Es’ – employability, enterprise and entrepreneurship – in the curriculum.

A number of international businesses that have chosen to invest in Scotland in recent years have cited access to Scotland’s academic expertise and graduate workforce as key reasons to choose our country for investment. As well as being good news for Scotland’s economy, this means that students from our universities are able to access exciting graduate job opportunities.

Graduate destinations

The latest Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for academic year 2016/17 confirmed that Scotland’s graduates have the best record of professional level jobs in the UK.

Scotland’s universities are producing graduates with the highest rates of positive destinations in the UK (work or further study) at 93 per cent compared to the UK average of 92 per cent. Of those graduates going into employment, 75 per cent are doing so straight into graduate level jobs. This represents a five per cent increase over the past five years and is higher than the UK average.

As youth unemployment continues to be an issue for Scotland, the UK and much of Europe, it is positive news that Scotland’s university graduates have the lowest levels of unemployment in the UK at 3.7 per cent – lower than the UK average of 4.1 per cent.

The latest HESA figures also confirmed that Scotland’s graduates continue to earn the highest average starting salaries in the UK at £23,500. This compares to a UK average of £23,000.

Graduate premium

UK government data published in 2018 showed that the average annual salary premium for graduates in the workforce compared to non-graduates has now reached £10,000 – an increase of £500 on the previous year. The median salary for postgraduates of working age also rose, with their postgraduate premium now standing at £16,000 – an increase of £1,000.​

Research by Biggar Economics has found that there is a ‘graduate premium’ of £3.9 billion of lifetime earnings over the working lives of each year’s cohort of graduates from Scottish higher education institutions. That is £3.9 billion of additional spending power, much of which will benefit Scotland’s economy. Separate research by Skandia, in their report First Steps to Wealth, found that a graduate’s earnings over their career are on average £600,000 higher compared with an 18-year-old holding only school-level qualifications.

Higher-level skills

The university sector’s promotion of learning is crucial to Scotland’s national success in the context of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills estimate that, by 2020, almost half of jobs in Scotland will be filled by individuals with qualifications at higher education level. The Commission has also reported that the sectors of employment which are projected to grow in Scotland are predominantly those which require high levels of qualification, with growth above 10 per cent in employment by 2020 projected in managerial and professional occupations.

One of the key strengths of Scotland’s HEI sector is its diversity, which enables us as a sector to deliver on and drive specialist and regional skills needs across the key sectors and for all types of learner. Universities work in partnership with Skills Development Scotland in the development and review of Skills Investment Plans (SIPs) and Regional Skills Assessments (RSAs) to inform economic development and institutional delivery.

Each of the nine Skills Investment Plans identifies a clear need for graduate level skills, and in many cases postgraduate. Scottish HEIs are the only national provider of higher level postgraduate and research skills needed by the key growth sectors.

Case study: Driving Scotland’s engineering skills provision

EngineeringUK, which represents the country’s major technology businesses has very recently produced a comprehensive analysis of the substantial and still growing skills shortages in engineering. This is in sharp contrast with rapidly expanding business opportunities. Their report indicates the scale of the skills demand as a requirement either to double the annual number of new Engineering graduates in the UK within a decade, or increase Engineering and other related STEM graduates by 50%, in addition to a doubling of annual output of relevant Advanced Apprenticeships. The University of Strathclyde is a member of the Engineering Skills Leadership Group which recently launched the Skills Investment Plan for Engineering – developed in partnership between industry, Skills Development Scotland, Universities and Colleges, to help Scotland’s engineering and advanced manufacturing sector attract new entrants. The Skills Investment plan set out the engineering sector’s need for approximately 1,000 highly skilled new graduate recruits per year in Scotland, in order to replace the estimated 11% of the workforce which will need to be replaced over the period 2010-2016. Scottish Universities delivered 3,000 first degree graduates in engineering and technology in 2013/14, alongside upskilling an additional 2,000 graduates to postgraduate level in engineering and technology.

Further reading

  • Universities Scotland’s 2013 report Taking Pride in the Job: University action on graduate employability is the product of a year-long engagement with business, students, and universities. Our goal, and the focus of the report, was to identify existing good practice which can be shared to enhance employability and propose further action to continue to improve the employability of graduates.
  • Read Universities Scotland and AGCAS Scotland’s publication, 360Degrees: Equipping Scotland’s Graduates for Success360Degrees presents a collection of graduate success stories alongside comments from business with an optimistic outlook on the graduate jobs market. The 19 graduates featured in 360Degrees show that people with the right skills and attitude can still succeed.
  • Read the ‘Learning for life’ section in Universities Scotland’s publication, Higher education in Scotland: Our values and our value added.

Key Facts:

  1. 73% of Scottish graduates going straight into work are doing so in graduate level jobs – higher than the UK average (68%) and an increase of 4% in the last year.
  2. More graduates from Scottish universities are in positive destinations of work or further study six months after graduation than the UK average – 89.9% compared to a UK average of 88.8%.
  3. Graduates from Scotland’s universities earn the highest average starting salaries six months after graduation in the UK – £23,500 compared to a UK average of £23,500.
  4. Graduates from Scotland’s universities continue to have the lowest level of unemployment in the UK at 6% compared to a UK average of 7%.
  5. A graduate’s earnings over their career are on average £600,000 higher compared with an 18-year-old holding only school-level qualifications.