Recent research portfolio

Transitions into and within higher education


Postgraduate transitions: exploring disciplinary practice

Research by CRAC, supported by experts from King's College, London, Durham University and the University of York, for the Higher Education Academy has been looking at the extent to which graduates from UK HE institutions progress to postgraduate study. Data shows that certain UK HE institutions seem to be more successful than comparable institutions in relation to the proportion of their graduates that enter postgraduate study. There are also marked differences between different disciplines. CRAC investigated these differences and investigated disciplinary, institutional and departmental practice that could account for variances of this kind. The report was published in 2016 by the Higher Education Academy:

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Understanding the recruitment and selection of postgraduate research students (HEFCE, 2014)

CRAC and Vitae, supported by the International Centre for Guidance Studies at the University of Derby, undertake research for HEFCE to build a picture, from an HE institutional perspective, of how postgraduate research (PGR) students in England, are recruited and selected, and their role in the HE research base.

This included:

  • The processes used by English HEIs to recruit UK and international PGR students to their doctoral programmes, as well as perspectives on the demand for PGR study.
  • How HEIs attempt to identify the ‘best' students aspiring to undertake postgraduate research and select them. What do HEIs seek in terms of candidates' prior learning, attainment or experience, and what are the barriers for prospective PGR students to overcome?
  • How HEIs align the activity of their PGR students with their strategic research mission;
  • The implications for the sustainability of postgraduate research provision and the role of its current funding arrangements.

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Understanding how people choose to pursue taught postgraduate study (HEFCE, 2014)

With help from the International Centre for Guidance Studies, CRAC has completed research for HEFCE to understand better and help HE providers to meet the information needs of prospective PGT students, so that they can make well-informed choices. This included:

  • Desk research to understand better the decision-making process by which prospective PGT students choose courses, and how this is served by existing provision of information;
  • New primary research to understand the particular information needs of prospective PGT students currently ‘outside' the HE system (i.e. potential ‘mature' students and/or those who have been outside HE for 3+ years). These prospective applicants have some distinct information needs, and they find it somewhat harder than those close to or in HE to find the information they seek.
  • Illustrating good practice by universities in web-based information provision through a range of case studies;

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International higher education

Student perspectives on going international (2015)

CRAC and a team of consultants designed and completed the research which resulted in this report published by the UK Higher Education International Unit's Go International programme and the British Council, on the benefits of and barriers to spending time abroad as part of a UK degree.  The research sought to provide evidence for institutions and policy-makers developing and implementing initiatives to increase the number of UK students accessing international opportunities.

Key findings included:

  • Most students perceived a positive relationship between spending time abroad during their studies and increased employability, academic success and personal development.
  • Students perceived that very short mobility periods resulted in similar levels of impact to longer periods of mobility (i.e. a semester or full year).
  • The principal motivations to go abroad, whether studying, working or volunteering, were a desire for an enjoyable experience and to enhance employability and career prospects.
  • Key factors in the decision to go abroad were the availability of funding, personal safety and security, and perceived quality of host and location.
  • While students are motivated by the experiences and opinions of other students when making a decision, the encouragement of academic tutors was also very significant.

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The Value of Transnational Education to the UK (BIS, 2014)

The UK is a leading provider of transnational education (TNE), with a diverse and complex range of modes of delivery involving many HE institutions, which have responded in enterprising ways to local needs. CRAC led a team of specialist partners/consultants to provide an improved understanding of the landscape of TNE operations by UK HE institutions.  The project included a census of TNE activity by UK institutions, and case studies of TNE delivery modes for sample programmes,  in order to develop national estimates of scale, income and value for key models of delivery.

From April 2014, additional research commenced with TNE alumni to identify potential and realised wider and indirect benefits to participants and also to UK HE institutions and the UK itself, for the main delivery TNE modes. This will enable comparison with findings of recent research by CRAC into the wider benefits of international HE in the UK

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The wider benefits of international HE to the UK (BIS, 2013)

The short-term benefit of international students studying within UK higher education are well understood, including substantial ‘education export' income (through their fees, and their other expenditure while studying here) and the way they enrich campus life and even maintain the numerical viability of some study disciplines.

CRAC led a project in 2012-13 to examine and evaluate the wider and longer-term benefits, both to the graduates and to the UK itself. These included economic, social, political, cultural and educational impacts, many relating to ‘soft power' - how international HE study supports Britain's place in the world. The results depict a highly positive view of the impact of HE study in the UK, through the lens of alumni.

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Employability and work experience

Employability literature review


The Higher Education Academy commissioned the University of Derby's International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) and CRAC to undertake a structured review of 187 pieces of academic and professional literature identified which relate to employability development in higher education, published in the period 2012-2016 (in order to update the Academy's expertise in this area). It describes how the subject of employability has been addressed during this period and draws out some of the key implications for higher education providers, academics and employability practitioners.

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Transnational education and employability development (2015)

Internationalisation and employability development are important current themes for UK higher education. A prominent internationalisation strategy has been to increase the number and range of UK programmes delivered ‘offshore' as transnational education (TNE), through overseas partner institutions, international branch campuses or distance learning. This research by CRAC and consultants for the Higher Education Academy sought to understand the extent to which curricula and planned study-related experiences for students on TNE programmes of UK universities are supporting the development of employability.

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Participation in graduate internships (2013)

CRAC undertook a study for the Royal Academy of Engineering into participation of recent HE graduates in graduate internships. This covered their motivations, application experiences and also outcomes for those who secured the internships, investigating differences in outcomes for different groups of graduates.

 Increasing opportunities for high-quality HE work experience (for HEFCE, 2011)

With Oakleigh, CRAC evaluated HEFCE's programmes supporting work experience and recommended how it might help to increase opportunities. This comprised summative evaluation of the internship schemes with employers that HEFCE had funded (>8500 internships), interacting with over 500 participating employers, over 60 universities offering schemes and graduate and undergraduate participants. It focused on long-term impacts for employers and graduates, and understanding barriers and ‘enablers' in any expansion of opportunities and their take-up. Having reviewed other approaches and models, strategic options for HEFCE were identified in a variety of funding scenarios.

Evaluation of the Graduate Talent Pool internships scheme (for BIS, 2011)

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) commissioned CRAC to evaluate its flagship internships scheme. Using survey and depth interviews with graduates who had obtained internships and non-participants, the study assessed the unique value of the scheme beyond pre-existing provision, in delivering improved employment outcomes and increases in employability, supported by information from employer participation.

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Work experience for STEM students and graduates (Science Council/BIS, 2011)

The BIS ‘Science for Careers Expert Group' invited CRAC to investigate the provision and take-up of opportunities for work experience and internships in STEM higher education and in STEM industries. This included assessment of differential opportunity provision across employment sectors and occupational roles, and differences in take-up by students and recent graduates across degree disciplines.

Hosting industrial placements in chemistry: Guidance and best practice (for RSC, 2012)

As part of ‘enhancing employer engagement' work under the national HE STEM programme, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) asked CRAC to develop new guidance for chemical sector employers considering industrial placements. The new guide is based on our research with universities and employers we identified which were not participating in placements. This enabled a genuine understanding of the barriers employers face and the support they most need in engaging with the education sector.

A career development perspective of UK researcher-business interactions (2012)

CRAC has reviewed the models, extent and impact of HE-business interactions at research level, for Vitae and Research Councils UK. This revealed new insights into the extent of opportunities, significant differences across sectors and some mismatch between motivations of participants in knowledge exchange activity.


Evaluation work

Exploring equality and diversity using REF2014 environment statements

This experimental project was commissioned by HEFCE to investigate what could be learned about equality and diversity (E&D) in the research environment, based on analysis of the 1911 ‘People' sections of the Environment Statements submitted by HE institutions to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework exercise (REF2014). Using a combination of automated text processing and computer-supported analysis, this found that:

  • HE institutions' focus in E&D was dominantly on gender (and to a lesser extent pregnancy/ maternity), much more than on other aspects of diversity;
  • The Athena SWAN gender award scheme was a major focus of what was reported;
  • E&D issues (including gender) were talked about more commonly in the sciences than in other broad research areas;
  • There was linkage between how much attention was paid to E&D in submissions and their REF Research Environment profiles (scores), although no proof that this was causal;
  • There was little quantitative evidence to distinguish genuine commitment to embedding E&D at the level of a submitting unit from effectiveness in completing a good submission;
  • Context was critical - for example, a third of occurrences of the word ‘Athena' were from submitting units that did not have an award but were aspiring or planning to achieve one;
  • This suggests that a combination of metrics and narrative approaches should be used in future submissions on the research environment, and that assessment panels will need to review and assess them both quantitatively and qualitatively;
  • As many E&D initiatives are currently at institutional level, these would be better reported and assessed through an institutional template and/or metrics, in addition to what is reported at Unit of Assessment level;
  • A revised, more structured environment template would be helpful, potentially including a specific E&D section, and ideally more guidance on the types of activities and measures that submitting units should cite.


Evaluation of the NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

CRAC/Vitae has provided the analysis and reporting of a mid-point evaluation of the Doctoral Training Partnerships scheme implemented by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Surveys and institutional visits were undertaken by NERC’s Training Advisory Board, which provided the sources of data for CRAC to analyse.

Provision of Professional Doctorate programmes in English HE institutions

CRAC and the University of Brighton recently undertook a review of the current landscape of professional doctorates in England for HEFCE, combining institutional strategic and practical views as well as insights from candidates and employer bodies. In recent years the number of institutions providing professional doctorates has grown, as has the number of professional doctorate programmes. Provision is in four main subject areas: education, business, psychology, and health and social care. Despite this growth, employer demand for staff with professional doctorates seems relatively weak in many areas - high proportions of candidates are in fact self-funded.

The report recommends that sector bodies and institutions develop a more strategic basis for provision of professional doctorates. Furthermore, it reaffirms equivalence between professional doctorate and PhD qualifications, highlighting the importance of the research context and the impact requirements of the professional doctorate on the professional practice of the candidate.

The research report can be found courtesy of HEFCE

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Early evaluation of Unistats: experiences of users (for HEFCE, 2012-13)

Working with the International Centre for Guidance Studies, CRAC conducted research to evaluate the operation and value of the newly relaunched national Unistats website, which utilises the Key Information Set of data about higher education and courses. The research with users, through observed groups and survey work, revealed how people use the internet to find out about HE and especially how they used the Unistats website and other online course search and comparison services.

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3-year review of UK progress with implementation of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers (2011)

UniversitiesUK, Research Councils UK, HEFCE and other research funders jointly invited CRAC to review progress made nationally in implementing the Concordat. This agreement enshrines principles for human resources, career support and training for research staff. The review was deliberately constrained to utilise only existing sources of data and information, to avoid placing additional burdens on participating organisations. Meta-analysis of universities' implementation plans and reports supported comparative analysis of national surveys (which CRAC routinely analyses and reports).

Evaluation of the national Medical Careers website (for DoH, 2010, repeated in 2012)

CRAC evaluated the national postgraduate medical careers website for the Department of Health. Mixed methods research assessed usage, impact and value of the website and its provider amongst to its target market of medical students and doctors in training. DoH wished to test unique value beyond information services already provided by different bodies within the sector. The review led to further consultancy work supporting DoH's potential consolidation of its information services supporting medical careers.  In 2012 CRAC provided a repeat evaluation to assess further progress.


STEM careers and graduate outcomes


Evaluation of STEM Insight programme

STEM Learning commissioned CRAC to undertake an evaluation of its STEM Insight programme, through which school science teachers undertake a placement in industry. The evaluation, based on in-depth interviews with a designed sample of participating teachers, school leaders and placement hosts, included formative aspects as well as summative investigations to consider the impact of the placement scheme on participants, schools and pupils, and the participating employers.


Employment outcomes of engineering graduates: key factors and diversity characteristics

CRAC was been commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering to undertake an in-depth investigation of the progression and transition into employment of recent engineering graduates over the past five years. The report Employment outcomes of engineering graduates: key factors and diversity characteristics provides data on both first destinations (six months after graduation) but also longer-term employment outcomes from graduates in the same cohort. In general, the employment outcomes are very positive compared to the overall graduate cohort, reflecting the importance of engineers, not just in the engineering industry, but across the whole economy.

Despite ongoing efforts to improve the diversity of the engineering profession, the report shows noticeable differences between the outcomes for different ethnic groups. Significantly higher proportion of white engineering graduates find full-time jobs within six months of graduation than amongst their black and minority ethnic (BME) counterparts, and more of them enter engineering occupations. Although employment prospects on the whole are very good, a black or Asian engineering graduate is more than twice as likely to be unemployed as a white engineering graduate of similar age and gender with similar study and attainment characteristics. This difference is larger for engineering graduates than for graduates across all disciplines. The report calls for further investigation into the impact of ethnicity and academic attainment on early employment prospects for engineering graduates.

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STEM graduates in non-STEM jobs (for BIS, 2010-11)

CRAC led a major BIS-funded study to explain why many STEM graduates do not enter careers related to their degree subject, as BIS believed many are ‘lost' from the pipeline to the STEM labour market at graduation. Our multi-faceted study, supported by NICEC and the CIHE, resulted in over 10,000 student survey responses, more than 600 interviews with graduates and significant interaction with 150 employers, many in STEM sectors. The report has provided a substantial evidence base for those working on STEM skills and careers.  

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Unemployment amongst recent Computing Science graduates (for CPHC, 2012)

CRAC has recently completed work to help the Council of Professors & Heads of Computing (CPHC) understand the high unemployment rate for Computer Science graduates in HESA ‘Destinations' statistics. Detailed analysis identified factors contributing to the headline unemployment rate and marked variations between different sub-groups. This is phase 1 of a longer-term study into the value of Computing Science degrees.