Internationally, governments have pledged to increase the number of PhD holders and support their transition into employment outside academia. These policies emerge from a commitment to the knowledge economy and human capital theory, which assert the necessity of knowledge-intensive labour to future prosperity. However, relative to the wealth of evidence on first-degree holders, understanding of the economic, social and cultural contributions of PhDs is considerably undeveloped.
This study made use of the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Longitudinal Survey (Long DLHE), which records employment circumstances three and a half years after graduation. Long DLHE data provide the most comprehensive record of PhD employment currently available in the UK. The analysis reveals that the vast majority of PhD holders will leave the academic sector after graduation. However, employment outcomes are highly variable by discipline. Significantly higher proportions of graduates from Russell Group universities, in scientific fields, secure research roles outside of academia, with prior qualifications and gender having some effect in these outcomes.
The implications of these findings will be discussed, as well as the limitations of the DLHE dataset. It will be argued that there is a pressing need for richer demographic and decision-making data from PhD holders, along with a more extensive, longitudinal view of the careers they forge.
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