Results of the 2008 Economics Network Survey of Alumni

Executive summary

In 2008, the Economics Network of the Higher Education Academy carried out its second survey of Economics alumni as part of the centre's research into teaching and learning Economics in UK HE.

Purpose of the study

We recognise that alumni can offer a unique perspective on evaluation of the skills and knowledge developed through a degree course and those required in the work place. To get information on how degree programs could be improved was one of the main purposes of the survey. The other was to inform our websites WhyStudyEconomics.ac.uk and www.StudyEconomics.org, which show future and current economics students what can be done with their degree, as well as what skills they need to develop to get their dream job.

The questionnaire used was similar to our first survey in 2004, with only a few questions changed. That has allowed us to compare the results of both surveys.

Respondent demographics

More than 600 graduates from 52 departments took part in the survey, compared to 138 from 10 departments in 2004. Of the respondents:

  • 65.0% were male and 35.0% were female;
  • 56.6% were younger then 30 years;
  • 84.9% stated that English is their first language;
  • 77.7% have a full time job;
  • 99.5% studied full time;
  • 31.8% have taken post graduate qualifications;
  • 76.4% feel 'just about right' qualified for their job;
  • 80.9% earn over £25,000 p.a.

The survey was intended as an observational study and not as a controlled experiment.

Methods of analysis

Students' responses to the quantitative survey questions were examined using standard statistical methods. Responses to each of the qualitative questions were coded and aggregated for analysis using N-Vivo software. In the report, for illustrative purposes we include graphs, which were based on the codes, summarised in terms of their frequency and typical quotes from students' responses.

Respondents' Employment

The diversity of jobs held by respondents reflects the diversity of organisations employing economics graduates. Job titles included CEO, Company Director, Head of Department, Consultant, Economist, Policy Advisor and Analyst, Manager and University Professor. When asked the type of organisations alumni worked for respondents mentioned government and public service, education, finance and civil services, industry, sales, banking, marketing and consultancy.

When asked for the main influences in the decision to take their current job, a third of respondents mentioned type of work and job satisfaction, with career development as a clear second. Slightly fewer respondents mention pay, job location and knowledge gained in the degree, as well as social and working environment, companies' reputation and job security, possibility of graduate schemes, and personal factors.

When asked to rate skills for the job developed during the degree course, a majority of respondents rated 'Greatly' only three groups of skills: Analysis of economic, business and social issues (57.6%); Abstraction while retaining relevance (43.9%); Organising, interpreting and presenting quantitative data (45.2%). The rest of the skills were rated by the majority as developed only to 'Somewhat' degree, including Formulating problems and constructing solutions; Understanding/interpreting financial matters; Strategic thinking; Communication of economic ideas. Developing those skills to a greater degree should be addressed in teaching Economics.

When asked about skills that help them get the job, respondents most frequently mention knowledge, degree and academic achievement along with communication and analytical skills. Some alumni have specifically pointed to the ability to communicate with non-specialists.

Respondents' study at University

When asked to identify three modules which most helped to prepare them for the workplace, only 3.4% answered negatively. Nearly one in six mention Macroeconomics and slightly fewer Microeconomics. Among other frequently mentioned modules were Finance, Econometrics, Quants and Stats. The rest of the modules mentioned were specialist ones, with Public, Labour and International Economics and Political Economy among the favourites. Some of the modules were mentioned not because of their content, but due to the lecturer's style and enthusiasm. Work placement and dissertations were also mentioned.

When asked what was not included in the degree but would have been useful, alumni suggested specific modules, real world examples, work experience and work place skills. Many ask to learn about different schools of economic thought.

Abilities that were not well developed by their degree, according to a majority of respondents, include oral communication, fluency in using IT, general creative and imaginative powers and awareness of cross-cultural issues, indicating that these are areas that could be developed further.

When asked about skills they'd like to develop further, alumni mention econometrics and data analysis, application of theory to real life, communication and presentation skills.

A majority found all aspects of their course useful, when asked to mention the least useful aspects of their study. Some respondents mention courses not directly connected with their current employment.

Nearly two thirds of respondents offered their advice and encouragement to students considering taking an Economics degree. They praised the discipline, its role in the world and its value to the individual. We plan to add them to our websites WhyStudyEconomics.ac.uk and studyeconomics.org for the benefit of future and current economics students

There is also a positive perception of an Economics degree: looking back on their time as an undergraduate and knowing what they do now about the careers and the workplace an impressive 85.1% said that they would still choose to study Economics at the degree level if they were starting out again.

In summary, the majority of respondents to the 2008 alumni survey were positive about their Economics degree study experience and found it contributed positively to their current employment experience. They also suggested some areas where further development would bring rewards, including generic skills such as oral communication, and application of theory to real-world economic problems.

Read the Full Report (PDF)

Contributor profiles