HESA’s DLHE survey has been capturing the ‘first destination’ of leavers from UK HEIs six months or more on from completing studies. It has now implemented its additional longitudinal study, contacting leavers three years further on (“Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Longitudinal Survey - Key Findings Report Published 2007”, http://www.hesa.ac.uk/index.php/content/view/112/154/). There are questions about the value of expending resources upon a further survey. However, the limitations of the existing available data are that many graduates are not settled into a career path at this point. This paper reports findings of a questionnaire survey of ‘negative destination’ graduates (i.e. those with a known first destination either unemployed or in sub-graduate-level employment) from a Russell Group institution, with a view to determining career histories and to answer the question how long does it take them to attain graduate level activity status. This shows value in DLHE conducting its longitudinal study. The institutional survey project, however, highlights the limitations of the DLHE survey, of itself, and of quantitative approaches (J.Bynner et al 2003, “Revisiting the benefits of higher education”, http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/rdreports/2003/rd05_03/) generally in this domain (M.Gough 2006, "Postgraduate Education as a form of Lifelong Learning, in the context of the Dimensions of Economic and Wider Benefits", Journal of Graduate Education, 3,4, pp116-132): the particular value of graduate level activity status and the relevance of the duration before attaining it remain uncritiqued; and findings about graduates of postgraduate programmes are not sufficiently comparable, because of both lower aggregate numbers and variable completion points. This points to the need for more nuanced qualitative approaches to understanding career progression and value of activity, to include particular treatment of postgraduates and researchers (as supported by e.g. The Rugby Team 2008, “Overview report from the Rugby Team 07 to the January 2008 Policy Forum”, http://www.grad.ac.uk/policyforum2008)
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