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Case study

A student thinks hard while reading

Informing higher education policy on how to understand and improve graduate outcomes

Professor Anna Vignoles and colleagues have researched ways to measure the benefits of Higher Education and to use this information to inform both students and policy. These research projects will improve graduate outcomes for all students in England (over 2 million a year) by helping them to make better-informed choices, and will also result in the provision of information to help close the socioeconomic gap in graduate outcomes.

Our work

When making choices about their degree, students need high-quality information on employment outcomes – especially those with little experience or knowledge of HE. Most analyses of this question have focused on earnings six months after graduation; by contrast, Professor Vignoles and colleagues have studied the earnings of graduates around 10 years into the labour market and shown how students’ family background influences earnings after graduation.

This research influenced the linking of Department for Education and HMRC data to create the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes dataset (LEO) – a tool that enables much better information to be made available to policy-makers and students alike. Vignoles, and a large multi-institutional team, have since undertaken further work guiding government on the use of this data.

In 2015, the Higher Education Funding Council in England (HEFCE) funded research into developing consistent, sector-wide measures of student learning. This supplemented the more limited student satisfaction measures used in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The Faculty’s three-year LEGACY project developed a theoretically-informed, usable measure of HE learning gain, with significant input from students.

The results

Vignoles has worked directly with several government bodies to ensure that the evidence and tools that emerged from this research are used. In 2016, the government announced that it would be using the LEO dataset to improve the quality of labour market data in the Teaching Excellence Framework. The evidence of a socioeconomic gap in earnings has led the Office for Students to recommend institutions should provide guidance into the labour force.

In 2018, LEO data was incorporated into the subject-level TEF. This extension of TEF was supported by a report to the DfE, co-authored by Vignoles, which was cited by the then Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, as having ‘important and far-reaching ramifications for the debate on value for money in Higher Education.”

As statistical advisor on a board supporting Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review of the TEF, Vignoles also influenced policy on the specific use of LEO data and ways of measuring learning gain. Vignoles and her team have stressed the need for appropriate use of these data, and worked with the government through numerous channels to achieve this.

LEO also informed the 2019 Augur Review on post-18 education. As of the end of May 2019, the original subject-level LEO dataset had been downloaded by over 23,000 individuals.