What Happens Next? - Latest report on the first destinations of disabled graduates

29 September 2019

Latest AGCAS research calls for more action to remove barriers preventing disabled graduates from accessing and thriving in fulfilling careers.

AGCAS has published the seventeenth edition of What Happens Next?, which reports on the first destinations of disabled graduates and provides real evidence of the effect of a disability on a graduate’s employment prospects. The report is written by careers and employability professionals who are members of the AGCAS Disability Task Group.

This year’s report compares the employment outcomes of disabled and non-disabled university leavers, six months after graduating, drawing on data from the 2016/17 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. Findings are based on analysis of 330,080 graduates at first degree, postgraduate degree (taught) and postgraduate degree (research) level who responded to the survey. Of this total, 13.7% (45,175) identified themselves as having either a disability or learning difficulty during their period of study.


There has been a year-on-year increase in the proportion of graduates disclosing a disability at each qualification level: undergraduate, postgraduate (taught) and postgraduate (research). As in previous years, the greatest proportion of graduates disclosing a disability at all qualification levels had a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD).

Employment levels

The report shows that whilst the likelihood of obtaining employment was seen to improve with increasing qualification level for both disabled and non-disabled graduates, the gap in total employment levels (between disabled graduates and those with no known disability) grew with increasing qualification level.

Reason for selecting job

For the first time in the report’s history, the reason why each graduate selected their job is examined. The most popular reason, at all qualification levels, was to fit in with a career plan or because it was exactly the type of work they wanted. At all qualification levels, graduates with a Social Communication or Autistic Spectrum Disorder were the least likely to have chosen their current role to fit a chosen career plan and among the most likely to have done so as a means to earn a living or pay off debts. With existing research revealing the widespread work-related disadvantage for these individuals, it is clear that more action is needed to support graduates with a social condition/autism to seek and secure employment.


In line with previous What Happens Next? findings, the report notes the likelihood of disabled graduates becoming self-employed, which at all qualification levels is greater than non-disabled graduates. Specific concerns highlighted by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) (2019) are that the disabled self-employed are experiencing difficulties accessing benefits and that there is widespread lack of understanding of self-employment. Clearly, there is a role here for the Government and support organisations to provide clarity and relevant provision for disabled individuals seeking to become self-employed.

Responses to report

The National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP) commented:

“NADP welcomes the findings of this report, which highlights that whilst there are great successes, there continues to be a need to reduce barriers for disabled graduates going into employment, particularly gainful and sustainable graduate employment for some. NADP remains highly committed in working towards disability equality throughout the student journey, pre-entry to post-exit and into employment, beyond first destinations”.

 Disability rights campaigner Lord Shinkwin said:

“University careers services have a vital role to play in ensuring that disabled graduates have the tools they need to realise their potential and gain employment in roles that fit in with their career plan. Through tailored and effective careers education, advice, and guidance, and by educating the employers they work with about the positive reality of hiring disabled graduates, careers services do essential work in changing policies and combatting prejudices”.

Members of the AGCAS Disability Task Group noted:

“We are pleased to present this latest report, which has again highlighted that, at all qualification levels, disabled graduates are less likely to be in employment. Indeed, the disadvantage experienced by those with a social condition/autism is particularly notable and concurs with the findings of previous reports. Our aspirations are that the findings in this report lead to action: employment is an important component of an individual’s self-worth and ultimately their ability to contribute to society. Disabled graduates represent real untapped potential and it is vital that more is done to enable these individuals to enter and succeed in the workplace.”

Download the 2019 report

The 2018 AGCAS HE Careers Services Survey revealed that 77% of services had developed targeted initiatives for disabled students. For examples of the innovative and successful ways university careers services are supporting disabled students, read the February 2019 edition of Phoenix, the AGCAS journal.