Graduates less vulnerable in recession, but inequalities persist

December, 2022

A new report, What do graduates do? 2022 by Prospects at Jisc reveals the resilience and adaptability of UK graduates during a recession

Key findings

  • The graduate labour market rapidly rebounded from COVID-19 with just 4.2% of 2020 graduates unemployed 15 months later.
  • Inequalities persist as white graduates with a first-class degree were most likely to be in full-time employment.
  • Three-quarters of working 2020 graduates were in professional-level employment - more than the previous cohort.

Graduates in this edition of What do graduates do? left university during the COVID-19 pandemic when significant restrictions were in place and job vacancies reached bottom in June 2020, running at around 39% of pre-pandemic levels (ONS).

Despite the severity of the labour market that they graduated into, HESA’s Graduate Outcomes data shows that 15 months later, more 2020 graduates were employed or studying than the previous year. While 80% were in employment (including 10.9% who were working and studying), 9.3% had embarked solely on further study and just 4.2% were unemployed. This is not dissimilar to the figures we might expect for a 'normal' year.

This graduate cohort was more likely to be in professional-level employment than their peers a year previously with 74% of working graduates in professional-level employment after 15 months. This proportion increased to 95% among those who had gained their degree as part of an apprenticeship. All professional-level roles saw increases in entry.

Self-employment had been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, but What do graduates do? shows that nearly one in ten of the employed graduates were either self-employed or actively working towards self-employment.

The report reveals that the graduate labour market is not a homogenous group and that there are inequalities in employment outcomes.

White graduates were more likely to be in employment (70%) and professional-level roles (74%) 15 months after graduation than their black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) counterparts - 65% and 72% respectively.

Graduates with a first-class degree were most likely to be in full-time employment (71%) than those with a 2:1 (67%), 2:2 (67%) or Third (69%). This is despite the Institute of Student Employers reporting that the number of employers using degree results as minimum entry criteria is in decline.

Prospects' senior consultant for labour market intelligence at Jisc, Charlie Ball said, 'This demonstrates how employable, resilient and adaptable UK graduates are, and how rapidly the graduate labour market rebounded from COVID-19. Even in a pandemic that locked down the UK economy, the large majority of new graduates got jobs, and good jobs at that. As we expect the recession to continue well into next year, there is every reason to believe that most graduates will get good jobs.

'In the last recession, the graduate labour market was, by some distance, the least affected part of the labour market. But, recessions exacerbate disadvantage. We are already starting behind and we need to work harder to ensure that all graduates have equal chances regardless of their backgrounds or characteristics.'

What do graduates do? 2022 report and further analysis is available on Prospects Luminate.

Media enquiries

Media enquiries, interviews and a preview of the report: Clare Tregaskis, Prospects and Jisc Student Services,, 07792 429227

About Prospects

Prospects has worked at the heart of higher education for nearly 50 years. Part of Jisc Student Services, the directorate collaborates with government, universities and employers to improve student and graduate career outcomes through information, guidance and opportunities. It includes, which is visited by 2.1 million students and graduates each month, Prospects Luminate and the UK's official postgraduate course database. Jisc Student Services also manages Prospects Hedd degree verification and fraud services.

About Jisc 

Jisc's vision is for the UK to be a world leader in technology for education and research. It owns and operates the super-fast national research and education network, Janet, with built-in cyber security protection. Jisc also provides technology solutions for members (colleges, universities and research centres) and customers (public sector bodies), helps members save time and money by negotiating sector-wide deals and provides advice and practical assistance on digital technology. Jisc is funded by the UK higher and further education and research funding bodies and member institutions.

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