Launch of What Happens Next? 2021

22 February 2021

New AGCAS publication calls for more research in order to reverse the trend of poorer employment outcomes for disabled graduates. 

AGCAS has published the eighteenth edition of What Happens Next?, a report which examines the outcomes 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 What Happens Next? report is the first edition to use data from the Graduate Outcomes survey to understand the outcomes of disabled graduates. In total, 265,385 graduates across all qualification levels (undergraduate degree, taught postgraduate degree and postgraduate research degree) responded to the Graduate Outcomes survey. Of these, 39,185 (14.8%) identified themselves as having a disability or learning difficulty during their studies. 

Read the report


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). The proportion of 2018 graduates at first degree level disclosing a mental health condition (22.0%) is higher than 2017 graduates (18.5%), which is in turn higher than the proportion of 2016 (15.6%) and 2015 (13.0%) graduates. In comparison, the number of graduates disclosing other disabilities has remained relatively stable year-on-year. 

 Employment levels 

At all qualification levels, the proportion of disabled graduates in full time employment was lower than the proportion of non-disabled graduates in full time employment. This echoes previous editions of What Happens Next? based on graduate destinations in the DLHE survey, collected six months after graduation, whereas data from this cohort was collected by the Graduate Outcomes survey, 15-months post-graduation. It is disappointing that the figures indicate that there is little change in disabled graduates’ employment prospects between six and 15 months after they graduate.  

There was an increase in the proportion of all graduates (disabled and non-disabled) in employment with increasing qualification level, but the gap in total employment between disabled and non-disabled graduates remains with increasing qualification level. Higher proportions of disabled graduates at all qualification levels were unemployed than non-disabled graduates. At all qualification levels, there are slightly higher proportions of disabled graduates employed on a short-term contract, a temporary contract or zero hours contract than non-disabled graduates. 

 Outcomes by disability type 

At all qualification levels, graduates disclosing autism were least likely to be in full time employment and were most likely to be unemployed. This reiterates findings in previous editions of What Happens Next? The proportion of unemployed graduates with autism was higher at postgraduate (research) level than postgraduate (taught) or first degree level. At all qualification levels, graduates with autism are the least likely of all disability graduates to be employed on a permanent contract and are most likely to be employed on a fixed term, temporary or voluntary basis. These graduates were also least likely to indicate that their qualification level and subject had been required for their job role and were least likely to have supervisory responsibility in their job role. 

At every qualification level, graduates with a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) were most likely to be employed and were most likely to indicate that their qualification was either required or useful in gaining their current job role. 

 Employment location 

At all levels, the proportion of non-disabled graduates employed in London was slightly higher than those with a disability, and graduates with autism were least likely to obtain employment in London at both first degree and postgraduate (taught) levels. Non-disabled graduates at every level were more likely to be employed outside the UK than disabled graduates. 

 The following recommendations are made to key stakeholders, within and outside the higher education sector, to improve the outcomes of disabled graduates:  

  1. To undertake research to better understand how disabled graduates make career decisions, including decisions about location of employment and basis of employment, and the barriers they face in achieving their career ambitions. 
  2. To undertake more research to know what is effective in improving the outcomes of disabled graduates. 
  3. Appropriate resourcing of university careers services to put effective interventions in place at-scale. 

“The Disabled Students’ Commission welcomes this report and looks forward to continuing the vital work with AGCAS, and the AGCAS Disability Task Group, specifically to engage stakeholders and ensure the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled graduates continues to narrow.”

Patrick Johnson, Disabled Students' Commission