Now, more than ever, the findings from the Graduate Outcomes Survey, Class of 2020 prove timely and relevant. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about substantial change. This change extends to new graduates, who have completed their studies and entered new jobs during lockdown. Understanding graduate employment rates or unemployment rates, and the fields of study most impacted is key for students, for higher education institutions and policymakers alike. This report strives to provide an in-depth view of graduate life for the Class of 2020, nine months after graduation.

  • What is the Graduate Outcomes Survey?

    The Graduate Outcomes Survey is a nationally representative annual survey of graduates from 23 Higher Education Institutes (for full list of institutes, see Contact Details).

    Graduates are surveyed nine months after graduation. For the Class of 2020, the survey was distributed in Spring/Summer 2021. Exact timings are determined by the institutes themselves. There is one census date of 31 March 2021.

    Annually, the response rate for the Graduate Outcomes Survey is around 50%. For the Class of 2020, this is 49.3%.

    A national report is produced, alongside an Appendix in the form of an interactive dashboard. This dashboard facilitates further analysis and findings.

    An “All Years” dashboard is also available. This enables year-on-year analysis and comparison of graduate outcomes. No data is available for the Class of 2019, as the timing of the survey coincided with the onset of COVID-19. To avoid placing an extra burden on students and institutes alike, the decision was made to cancel the Class of 2019 Graduate Outcomes Survey. As such, the years available are the Class of 2017, 2018, and 2020.

Executive Summary

  • 64,858 graduates across 23 HEIs (53.3% female; 46.7% male)
  • The most common fields of study are Business, Administration & Law (25.9%), Health & Welfare (15.1%), and Arts & Humanities (12.4%)
  • 52.6% graduated from Undergraduate Honours Degree programmes; 23.0% from Taught Masters programmes
  • Overall, 75.9% in employment nine months after graduation (down from 80.1% for the Class of 2018). Employment is highest for Education graduates (93.2%) and lowest for Arts & Humanities graduates (53.1%).
  • Nearly two-thirds (64.3%) of graduates are on Permanent or Open-Ended contracts (up from 61.9% for the Class of 2018). Permanent or Open-Ended contracts are most common in ICTs (79.0%), and least common in Education (42.2%).
  • The most common graduate salary is €30,000 – €34,999 (19.0%), followed by €25,000 – €29,999 (18.3%). ICT graduates have the highest proportion of graduates earning more than €40,000 nine months after graduation (44.1%).
  • 13.8% of graduates pursue further study nine months after graduation (up from 12.6% for the Class of 2018). Further study is highest for Arts & Humanities graduates (27.4%) and lowest for Education graduates (2.9%).
  • 8.1% of graduates are unemployed nine months after graduation (up from 4.3% for the Class of 2018). Unemployment is highest for Arts & Humanities graduates (13.4%) and lowest for Education graduates (2.5%).

Foreword: Vivienne Patterson, Head of Skills, Engagement and Statistics

Tracking graduate outcomes is at the forefront of national policy frameworks and huge strides have been made over the last five years in graduate tracking, through the development of the HEA’s Graduate Outcomes Survey and administrative data housed in the Central Statistics Office. Robust data on graduate outcomes allows the HEA, higher education institutions and policy makers to measure the early career development of graduates and is a crucial part of providing transparency and accountability for public investment and understanding the skills needs of the Irish economy.




This report of the Graduate Outcomes Survey: Class of 2020 presents the findings of the third iteration of a national analysis of higher education graduate outcomes in Ireland. This report is particularly timely as it provides an insight into the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on our recent graduates, and how higher education institutions have continued to prepare our graduates for a rapidly changing workplace. Due to the onset of Covid-19 and the subsequent restrictions introduced in higher education institutions in March 2020, it was necessary to cancel the 2020 Graduate Outcomes Survey of 2019 graduates, so this report is the first in two years that allows us to see the full picture of early stage graduate outcomes.

The findings of this report show that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected graduate employment. In terms of the main destination of all graduates, there has been a decrease in employment compared with the Class of 2018. For 2020 graduates, 76% were working or due to start a job (compared to 80% for 2018 graduates), 14% were engaged in further study (compared to 13% for 2018 graduates), 8% were unemployed (compared to 4% for 2018 graduates) and 2% were engaged in ‘other’ activities (compared to 3% for 2018 graduates).

This report also contains a detailed analysis of how the pandemic has affected different types of graduates. It should be remembered that on the survey census date (31 March 2021) that non-essential retail, restaurants, cafes, cultural institutions such as museums, galleries and libraries, along with visitor attractions and sporting facilities remained closed, amongst a raft of other restrictions. These restrictions therefore resulted in a significant barrier to employment for many new entrants to the labour market. In particular, the report finds that honours degree graduates have seen the largest fall in employment rates, compared with other programme types. Falls in employment vary significantly by field of study with Services and Arts & Humanities graduates seeing the most severe effects, as a direct result of the extended restrictions placed on tourism and hospitality, along with the arts and culture sectors. However, other areas like Education, Health and Welfare, Science and Agriculture have comparable employment rates to those seen before the pandemic.

As the magnitude of the social and economic consequences of the crisis caused by the pandemic begin to crystallise, we must grasp this opportunity to provide our future graduates with new skills, and new ways of thinking and working; reduce inequality in education and employment; and provide for a vibrant social, cultural and economic future. To quote WB Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” This report provides an important piece of the evidence base that will allow us to look forward to bright prospects for our society and economy.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the higher education institutions – and in particular the careers officers and IT personnel – for their ongoing engagement with the survey. Without your continued hard work, participation and support, this publication would not have been possible. I would also like to extend my gratitude to all the graduates that took the time to answer the survey, particularly given the unprecedented challenges that you faced as you completed your studies.

Next Chapter: Main Graduate Destination

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