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Exploring educational advantage in the UK via graduate employment of joint honours degrees by examining pre-university tariff and degree classification

Louise Pigden (School of Engineering and Technology, University of Derby, Derby, UK)
Andrew Garford Moore (Department of Corporate Planning and Performance, University of Derby, Derby, UK)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 2 January 2020

Issue publication date: 16 April 2020




In the UK, the majority of university students specialise and study just one subject at bachelor degree level, commonly known in the UK as a single honours degree. However, nearly all British universities will permit students if they wish to study two or even three subjects, so-called joint or combined honours degrees, internationally known as a double major. The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between graduate employment, pre-university educational attainment and degree classification achieved. The study also explored student choice with respect to university prestige.


The authors analysed the complete data set provided from the Higher Education Statistics Agency Destination of Leavers from the Higher Education survey, and combined this with data from the POLAR4 quintiles, Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) tariff points and degree classification. The data were analysed to establish whether there was a difference in the choices and highly skilled graduate employment of the joint honours students, focussing particularly on Russell Group and Post-92 Universities, in order to build on previous published work.


For any UCAS tariff band, the higher the POLAR4 quintile the higher the rate of highly skilled destination. Russell Group outperform the Post-92 graduates in their rates of highly skilled destinations, for any tariff band and for both joint and single honours degrees. Higher POLAR4 quintile graduates are more likely to study at the Russell Group, with this effect increasing the higher the UCAS tariff. With the exception of first class honours graduates from Post-92 universities, joint and single honours from the Russell Group have a higher rate of highly skilled destination than Post-92 in the next higher degree classification.

Social implications

Low POLAR4 quintile students with high UCAS tariffs are “under-matching” and there is an impact on their graduate employment as a result.


This study adds new insights into joint honours degrees and also reinforces the literature around educational advantage and achievement prior to university, and the impact on graduate employment. Educational disadvantage persists over the course of a university degree education, from the perspective of gaining graduate employment. Higher quintile graduates are proportionately more likely to achieve the highest degree classifications, and proportionately less likely to achieve the lowest classifications, than graduates from the lower quintiles. Joint honours graduates are less likely to achieve a first class honours degree than single honours, and this will affect their rate of highly skilled destination.



Pigden, L. and Moore, A.G. (2020), "Exploring educational advantage in the UK via graduate employment of joint honours degrees by examining pre-university tariff and degree classification", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 400-419.



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