Graduate unemployment peaks at highest rate in nearly two decades

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Graduate unemployment is at its highest in 17 years at 8.9%, but is expected to have peaked in the short-term, according to research published this month by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU).

HECSU’s What Do Graduates Do?* reports that over the last year, graduate unemployment has risen 1% to 8.9%, representing 21,020 students who graduated in 2009 and were known to be without work in January 2010*. The last time it reached this level was 1993 (10.5%).

For the previous year’s students, 2008 graduates, unemployment had increased 2.4% to 7.9%, demonstrating that the rate is slowing down. However, Charlie Ball, deputy research director at HECSU warns that while unemployment is likely to have peaked, the slowdown will be short-lived:

“Graduate unemployment hasn’t risen as high as we feared and is some way off the levels of the last recession in 1992, when it reached 11.6%. Prospects for graduates in the short-term look brighter, with unemployment, as a result of the downturn, likely to have peaked and next year we expect to see a decline. However, with the anticipated public sector job cuts the future in the medium-term looks less clear.”

The public sector was one of the very few areas to continue to recruit through the recession, fuelling worries over the impact the jobs cuts will have on graduate unemployment.

While recruitment into the private sector suffered, the public sector remained buoyant. Employment for social and healthcare professionals both increased – 0.5% to 5.2% and 0.2% to 14.8% respectively.

Recruitment to the retail sector bucked the trend with 14.4% of those in employment working in this sector – a 3.8% increase from the previous year. Marketing was the only other type of work in the private sector that had increased its graduate intake – a rise of 0.1% to 4.2%.

Graduates that also faired well, with unemployment levels below average (8.9%), were those with degrees in geography (7.4% unemployed) and psychology (8.3%).

IT was hit hardest with unemployment increasing from 13.7% to 16.3%. Similarly, those entering construction and engineering struggled, particularly within architecture and building, mechanical engineering, and civil engineering – rising from 8.5% to 10.9%, 10.1% to 11.8% and 7% to 11.9% respectively. In addition, media studies graduates struggled with rates increasing 2.6% to 14.6%.

As anticipated, the recession has motivated more students to seek further study or training and there are a higher proportion of students taking this option than are unemployed – an increase of 1.3% to 15.4%. Those entering postgraduate courses increased the most, from 6.6% to 8.1%. Students studying for a teaching qualification dropped slightly (0.1%) to 2.4%, but it was a popular choice for maths students (8.4%). Investment in education continues to be vital for the 20% of accountancy graduates who were working and studying, 12% higher than the national average.

While the number securing graduate-level jobs fell 3.3% to 62.4%, salaries continued to rise, but only marginally. Graduates can expect a mean salary of £19,695, £18 higher than the previous year. London reported a slightly higher salary of £22,228 and Scotland held up well at £19,965 – higher than any other region outside London. By subject, graduates who studied Chinese reported the highest starting salary of £24,540 and fine art graduates the lowest, £14,625.

WDGD? is published in collaboration with the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS) and UCAS. Margaret Dane, Chief Executive of AGCAS, says:

“In the current recession, higher education careers services are working very hard to prepare students and graduates for the realities of the labour market, highlighting the opportunities that still exist despite the downturn and helping them to enhance their employability in a competitive environment.”

From 1 November 2010 the report can be downloaded from www.hecsu.ac.uk

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