Design most popular university choice – but graduates aren’t ending up as designers

New research has found that while 30,000 students graduated from design courses between 2012-2013 and 2015-2016, only a quarter ended up going into “highly skilled” design jobs.

Design is the most popular subject for university students to take as a first degree – but only a quarter of graduates are likely to end up working as a specialist designer.

The research from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) looks at how likely students taking certain subjects at university are to end up in related, highly skilled and well-paid jobs.

Data was taken from over 600,000 recent graduates in the UK, and looked at all university subjects that had more than 25 graduates between 2012-2013, and 2015-2016.

30,000 students took design – but 25% became designers

The research found that roughly 30,000 students graduated from design courses as their first degree between 2012-2013 and 2015-2016, but only a quarter of them ended up in the top three jobs associated with design.

More students took design as their first degree than any other subject group, beating teacher training, nursing, medicine, dentistry and architecture – but all of these degrees were far more likely to lead to a job in these fields.

Less “highly-skilled” than journalism but more than art

Additionally, those studying design were less likely to go into any kind of “highly skilled” job after graduating, whether related to design or not, compared to architecture, marketing, journalism and law.

However, studying design was found to be more likely to lead to a “highly skilled” job than physics, biology, psychology, French, maths, business studies and art.

Jobs that are categorised as having “high skill levels” by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) include corporate managers and directors; science, research, engineering and technology professionals; health professionals; teaching and education professionals; and business, media and public service professionals.

Expected graduate salary £19,400

Additionally, the expected salary of a design graduate six months after graduating was relatively low at £19,400, below that of architecture, journalism, law, maths, French, business studies and politics. The highest was dentistry at £31,800 while the lowest was art at £18,500.

But the research did find that less vocational subjects open graduates up to a broader range of job options, while more vocational subjects restrict graduates’ options early in their career.

Vocational level of job was calculated using OSCR

The results were calculated by giving each subject an occupation-subject concentration ratio (OSCR) – a percentage indicating how “vocational” the subject is, so how likely the students are to go into a career related to their degree.

This was calculated by looking at how many graduates go on to be employed in one of the three most common highly skilled occupations associated with the subject they took at university. Data was only used based on students’ first degrees, so not postgraduate degrees and not second undergraduate degrees.

Medicine and dentistry most vocational

This measure gave an OSCR scale of 0-100%, with a score of 10% being not vocational at all and a score of 90% being very vocational.

Design studies had an OSCR rating of 26%, meaning just over a quarter of students are likely to go into a highly-skilled, related career, while medicine and dentistry had a rating of 99%, meaning nearly all graduates are likely to go into a related career.

To see the research on measuring the vocational levels of different degrees, head to the Higher Education Funding Council for England site.

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