Career-related satisfaction in university degrees high, but more than one-third of master’s graduates unemployed in early stages of careers
Two-thirds of master’s degree holders feel their education also provides good career skills, while doctoral degree holders consider their degree a sign of expertise.

Each year, Finnish universities ask those who graduated with a master's degree five years ago or with a doctoral degree three years ago about their employment and what they think about their education and the qualifications provided by it. For the University of Helsinki, the results of the latest surveys were published on 11 June 2020. (Link to the Finnish survey. The survey will be published in English later.)

Nearly all master's degree holders who responded to the survey in autumn 2019 were employed, with only 2% of the respondents being unemployed. Their job requirements also corresponded well with their education, and they were able to utilise the knowledge and skills learnt at university, as assessed by more than 80% of respondents. In fact, the majority (83%) were satisfied with their degree in terms of their professional career, an increase of two percentage points from the previous survey.

In the case of doctoral degree holders, the figures were even better. In terms of their professional careers, almost 90% of respondents were satisfied with their doctoral degree. In addition, 86% of doctoral degree holders considered the requirement level of their work well matched with their education.

“Doctoral degree holders also stated that they were able to use the knowledge and skills gained from their studies in their work,” Riikka Sarasjärvi from Research Services sums up.

Unemployment varies greatly between educational fields

In the survey for master’s degree holders, more than one third, or a total of 36% of respondents, had been unemployed in the first years of their career. The share of those with periods of unemployment grew by three percentage points compared to the graduates in the year before.

A little over a quarter of doctoral degree holders, 27%, had been unemployed. The share of doctoral degree holders who had been unemployed at some point after graduation decreased by two percentage points from the previous survey.

“The career tracking survey was conducted last autumn, which excludes the effect on employment of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 from the findings. Next autumn’s survey will shed light on how the coronavirus crisis has affected the employment of those responding to the upcoming survey,” says Eric Carver from Strategic Services for Teaching.

Unemployment varies greatly between educational fields. For example, only 13% of the respondents to the master’s level survey who graduated from the Faculty of Medicine had been unemployed in the past five years, whereas the corresponding figure for Faculty of Theology graduates was as high as 55%. The job market situation of educational fields is also evident in the responses. Those who have found employment that matches their educational level well are usually the most satisfied with their degree.

According to respondents holding a master’s degree, the most important factors that impact finding work are the ability to describe their personal expertise, other work experience, and contacts and networks.

The most common employer sectors for University of Helsinki master’s graduates were businesses and municipalities, with almost 60% of respondents working in these sectors. The third sector, the state and universities each employed a little over 10% of respondents.

The most common fields for master’s degree holders were education, work with customers or patients, planning, development or administrative duties, and research. The mean monthly salary of respondents was €3,400.

Career skills provided by education are important

Even though master’s degree holders were mainly satisfied with their degree in terms of their professional career, only two-thirds felt that their education had equipped them sufficiently for the job market. According to the respondents, the ability to learn new things, initiative, cooperation and problem-solving skills as well as stress tolerance were the most important skills needed in their work.

“If a respondent feels that their education has provided them with sufficient skills for professional life, they have a more positive view of skills development during studies, including theoretical knowledge, practical knowledge, problem-solving, cooperation skills, analytical and systematic thinking, teaching, instructional and guidance skills, public speaking skills as well as stress tolerance,” says Tuukka Kangas from Institutional Research and Analysis.

Some of the skills above are already recognised as strengths associated with university education, others constitute development targets.

Survey results affect university funding from 2021

From 2021 onwards, career tracking surveys will begin to have an effect on the model for distributing funds to universities. Currently, only the number of employed graduates is measured, but under the new model the quality of employment will be introduced as another indicator. Concrete figures will be obtained from Statistics Finland, while quality will be assessed on the basis of career tracking survey responses by master’s graduates.

The response rate of the career tracking survey for master’s graduates remained unchanged at 42%, with great differences in faculty-specific response rates.

The response rate of the survey for doctoral graduates decreased by two percentage points from the previous survey, with 47% of the doctoral graduates from 2016 responding.

The survey results based on the responses of master’s degree holders who graduated in 2014 and doctoral degree holders who graduated in 2016, were published on 11 June 2020. (Link to the Finnish survey. The survey will be published in English later.)

Further information on career tracking: