A sobering article in the Times from Martin Birchall, a managing director of High Fliers Research and editor of The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers.
The plight of graduates has been making headlines since the start of the year. Predictions of the likely fate of those who left university this summer vary, but several estimates suggest that up to one in six new graduates will be unemployed. And that’s not to say that all of the remainder will find work — a third are expected to take refuge in further study or opt for a year out.
The recession has taken its toll on the graduate job market. About a fifth of entry-level vacancies — outside vocational areas such as teaching and medicine — have been cut during the past two years, taking graduate recruitment back to 2005 levels.
This may not sound particularly dramatic — the official graduate unemployment rate that year was a modest 7 per cent, about 15,000 individuals — but, in the four years since then, the student population has grown substantially, spurred on by the Government’s target for 50 per cent of school-leavers to go on to university. This means that an extra 40,000 graduates completed degrees this year, compared with 2005, turning a relatively modest downturn in graduate vacancies into a crisis for university-leavers.
Figures published today suggest that things are likely to get worse for the next generation of graduates. Ucas, the university admissions service, is expected to confirm that universities have offered almost 100,000 more undergraduate places this autumn than in 2006. Even allowing for the fact that up to a quarter of these students will not make it to graduation, this increase implies that there will be an additional 75,000-80,000 graduates competing for jobs in three years’ time.
This spectacular jump in student numbers is, in part, down to the surge in applications for degree courses as the wider employment market has worsened. Universities have lobbied hard for the Government to fund more places, arguing that it is better for young people to do a degree than be out of work. But while this may seem like a worthy short-term solution, it is only postponing a bigger crisis.
Given that we already have a surplus of at least 50,000 graduates a year, what on earth will the Class of 2012 do at the end of their degrees? The total number of graduate jobs available would need to double to provide jobs for all of these new graduates. Even in the most buoyant times, graduate vacancies have grown by only about 10 per cent a year and there are few signs that recruitment is going to return to these levels any time soon.