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 whether educational advantage, measured by the “Participation of Local Areas” (POLAR) classification, correlated with rates of graduate destinations for joint and single honours graduates. This study focused particularly on Russell Group and Post-92 Universities.
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, which aggregate geographical regions across the UK based on the proportion of its young people that participate in higher education. The data were analysed to establish whether there was a difference in the highly skilled graduate employability of the joint honours students, focusing particularly on Russell Group and Post-92 Universities, in order to build on previous published work.
Single honours and joint honours graduates from higher participation POLAR4 quintiles were more likely to be in a highly skilled destination. However at both the Russell Group and the Post-92 universities, respectively, there was no trend towards a smaller highly skilled destinations gap between the honours types for the higher quintiles. For the highest POLAR4 quintile, the proportion of joint honours graduates was substantially higher at the Russell Group than at Post-92 universities. Furthermore, in any quintile, there were proportionately more joint honours graduates from the Russell Group, compared with single honours graduates, and increasingly so the higher the quintile.
This study focused on joint honours degrees in the UK where the two or three principal subjects fall into different Joint Academic Coding System (JACS) subject areas, i.e. the two or three subjects are necessarily diverse rather than academically cognate. This excluded the class of joint honours degrees where the principal subjects lie within the same JACS subject area, i.e. they may be closer academically, although still taught by different academic teams. However, the overall proportion of joint honours graduates identified using the classification was in line with the UCAS (2017) data on national rates of combined studies acceptances.
All Russell Group graduates, irrespective of their POLAR4 quintile, were far more likely to be in a highly skilled destination than single or joint honours graduates of Post-92 universities. Even the lowest quintile graduates of the Russell Group had greater rates of highly skilled destination than the highest quintile from Post-92 universities, for both single and joint honours graduates. This demonstrated the positive impact that graduating from the Russell Group confers on both single and joint honours graduates.
This study could not explain the much smaller gap in the highly skilled destinations between single honours and joint honours graduates found in the Russell Group, compared with the Post-92. Why do a higher proportion of joint honours graduates hail form the upper POLAR4 quintiles, the Russell Group joint honours graduates were more disproportionately from the upper POLAR4 quintiles and the joint honours upper POLAR4 quintiles represented such a larger proportion of the Russell Group overall undergraduate population? Other student characteristics such as tariff on entry, subjects studied, gender, age and ethnicity might all contribute to this finding.
This study demonstrated that, averaged across all universities in the UK, there was a trend for both single honours and joint honours graduates from higher participation POLAR4 quintiles to be more likely to be in a highly skilled destination, i.e. the more educationally advantaged, were more likely to be in a highly skilled destination, as a proportion of the total from each honours type. This accorded with HESA (2018b) data, but expanded those findings to include direct consideration of joint honours graduates.
Pigden, L. and Moore, A.G. (2019), "Educational advantage and employability of UK university graduates", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 9 No. 4, pp. 603-619. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-10-2018-0101
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