TEF metric on graduate earnings ‘reflects distance from London’

Data for English universities seem to show government metric based on salaries is skewed by location

January 21, 2019
North and South motorway signs
Source: NORRIE3699/iStock

A metric in the UK’s teaching excellence framework that scores universities on graduate earnings appears to heavily reflect how far an institution is from London, data have revealed.

Newly released data on English universities that would form the basis of TEF assessments this year suggest that institutions in London and the south east are much more likely to be flagged as performing well for graduate salaries.

Meanwhile, most of the lowest scores on the metric – which uses statistics from the government’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes dataset on graduate outcomes – are recorded by universities based in the north of England.

Critics said that the data prove that the metric – which currently is only “supplementary” information to judge universities’ teaching performance but which is set to be a core part of assessments in future – is flawed and should not be used without some adjustments for regional wage variations.

The analysis was made possible after the Office for Students released all the TEF data for English institutions that are eligible to enter the exercise this year.

It shows that out of 43 English institutions that get a “double positive flag” for the share of graduates earning above the national median wage for 25- to 29-year-olds, well over half (28) were in London or the south east and none were in the north west. At the same time, no universities in London or the south east score a “double negative flag” for the metric, but more than half that do are in the north.



Separate graduate destination data suggest that the only two institutions in the north of England that receive the double positive flag on the metric – the University of Leeds and Durham University – simply have relatively high numbers of graduates going on to work in London soon after leaving.

Tim Thornton, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, one of the universities that has a double negative flag and where data show that about 70 per cent of graduates work in the local region after leaving, said that using such a metric would simply be “ranking local labour markets”.

“There’s a real danger of damaging unintended consequences,” he said. “Higher education providers are effectively being incentivised to send graduates to London and the south east, rather than working with local employers.”

Paul Youngson, head of planning and timetabling at Huddersfield and an expert on TEF data, said that he was “surprised” that the metric “makes no attempt to take the large, known variations in earnings in local labour markets into account”.

“We know that the majority of graduates work in the local region of their university, and we know there is a difference of about £4,000 per year between the highest-paying region and the lowest; and to take no account of this doesn’t make sense,” he said.

An OfS spokesman said that the median salary used in the metric – which according to the latest TEF technical guide is £21,000 – was “below the starting salary of professional, socially valuable graduate jobs such as nursing, midwifery or teaching”.

“Earnings do vary across the country, reflecting differences in job opportunities, productivity levels and the local cost of living, and this will have some bearing on earnings outcomes,” he added, noting that the Department for Education was “exploring whether and how this can be taken into account of in some future presentations of the data”.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (4)

Possibly the best idea is to gather data on WHERE graduates are working as well as WHAT they are earning. A graduate of a university in the north of England is likely to earn as much as one from the south-east if they have found a job in London, after all. Or just leave it how it is and discredit 'graduate earnings' as a metric for judging the worth of an institution. Education is about far more than how high-paying a job you can get after you've finished it.
Having seen the graduates from last year from my sons course in a Southern University virtually all end up in shelf stacking, warehouse or unskilled factory minimum wage work, it's all to often only those few with 'privileged' backgrounds and 'connections' are being shoehorned into better paid jobs in family and friends businesses in the South of the country. So it's not just those in 'the North' that aren't earning that well, add in the additional living costs of living in the 'rich' South and those in the North ain't doing so bad after all. The whole picture with relevancy of local costs, lack of London weighting but similar living costs etc in the 'South' is probably beyond those that have decided a simple number is all thats required.
“There’s a real danger of damaging unintended consequences,” - I think he's being rather charitable. I think these consequences are entirely intended by those creating the metrics, because they favour universities in the top end of Russell whose intake is less regionally focused, and who then go on to move away into regions with higher income jobs. It's just another way of gaming the system to suit those institutions most and perpetuating the chronic imbalance..
It is true (and not surprising) London University Graduates will tend to get more London jobs at higher salaries than graduates from other Universities (outside London) who do not get jobs in London. London employers pay more because the cost of living in London is higher. Also true that Russell group Unis have more graduates starting jobs in London Also true that Oxbridge and Russell Group Unis want the students they accept to have higher points. Do the main factors about higher salaries also include the facts that some graduates from some universities doing some courses apply for some jobs that pay higher salaries and get the top paying jobs. It's not only the "London factor" that is at work here!!!

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