When I recently attended an event at the Resolution Foundation on the use of LEO data, someone said they thought we were the first country in the world to have this kind of linked data on graduate salaries available. My experience in Russia last month proved this not to be the case. Nor are we the first to try and grapple with the complexity that the new availability of this data brings.
I was invited to speak in Moscow about my experience of developing a ‘Graduate Tracer Study’, alongside colleagues from Italy and Argentina (as before I joined HEPI, I worked at HESA where I led on the design and implementation of the new Graduate Outcomes survey). The event focused on how surveys of graduates should be used to supplement linked salary data of graduates and was organised by the World Bank, on behalf of the Russian Government.
Russia has recently set up a Ministry of Science and Higher Education, as previously higher education was incorporated within the Ministry of Education, similarly to today’s system in the UK. Attendees included the Adviser to the Minister, economists, labour market experts and academics.
In the UK we first got access to the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data, linking graduates’ educational records with tax and benefits data to provide lifelong salary information, in 2015 when the government passed the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act. This use of administrative data was seen as a significant step forward in collecting data on graduates and seen either as a more reliable source than survey data (although when HESA consulted, 94% of nearly 200 respondents still argued that supplementary survey data was required).
In Russia, they have had access to the equivalent information since 2012, when the higher education system was reviewed, coinciding with the consolidation of the number of universities down from the thousands to around 700 (with around 1,500 branches). They have put this data to a number of uses, largely for developing policy and as a proxy for evaluating the quality of education in universities. As in the UK, they also hold unique identifiers which allow them to track whether a graduate has gone into further study.
Their availability of this new dataset has moved on understanding of graduates’ progression after they leave university. However, as has been found with LEO data, they have identified a number of limitations of the data. These include:
- difficulties with defining employment, as limiting this to only taxpayers may lead to gaps in the data – as in the UK, their data on those who are self-employed is limited;
- a lack of data for those who leave the country after graduating; and
- a lack of contextual information, such as understanding of graduate skills.
They are also grappling with difficulties in matching educational profile to professional occupation. In Russia there is much more focus on ensuring the work or further study a student goes into is directly related to their course. This is so fundamental to their idea of a successful outcome from higher education that they are considering laws to enforce students entering employment related to their course, although it was acknowledged that this would be hugely complex to implement.
It is for these reasons that, despite the complexities of trying to track a student population which is in the millions, the Russian government are considering also running a survey of graduates to capture richer information on what graduates go on to do after leaving higher education.
For me, the discussion solidified both the case that LEO data is useful and has an important role to play, but also that its true strength is in using it alongside contextual information on where graduates go and what they are doing.