Education & Family

Graduate unemployment 'at a 17-year high'

university graduates (file image)
Image caption Public sector job losses could impact on graduates' job prospects

Graduate unemployment has risen to its highest level for 17 years, research suggests.

A study of the graduate class of 2009 found that 8.9% were out of work in January 2010, the Higher Education Careers Services Unit said.

The last time graduate unemployment hit this level was in 1993, it added.

The National Union of Students said the bleak prospects for graduates underlined how "unfair and illogical" the plans to raise tuition fees were.

The government will give its formal response to the Browne Review on higher education funding for England later this week and is expected to confirm that tuition fees will rise.

According to the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (Hecsu) survey, the graduate unemployment rate has risen by one percentage point since last year - to 8.9% - with just over 21,000 students known to have been out of work in January.

Peaked

The previous year, the graduate unemployment rate had shot up from 5.5% to 7.9%.

But Charlie Ball, from Hecsu, believes it might have peaked.

"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%," he said.

"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 study also showed that graduates in some courses had far better fortune in finding work than those who had taken other subjects.

IT graduates had the bleakest prospects, with an unemployment rate of 16% among their number. Graduates who had studied engineering, media studies or architecture also had a jobless rate above 10%.

By contrast, geography and psychology graduates had a better than average chance of getting work.

The president of the National Union of Students, Aaron Porter, said the figures showed the government should reject the recommendations of Lord Browne's review.

"These latest figures show that students are graduating from university into the bleakest employment market for decades," he said.

"This is yet further proof that the radical proposals in Lord Browne's review to remove government funding for the majority of subjects, and simply transfer this cost to students, is unfair and illogical."

The University and College Union, which represents academics, warned that talented people would be put off going to university by the tough jobs market and the prospect of rising tuition fees.

The union's general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "Graduates are facing an increasingly competitive job market and leaving university with record levels of debt.

"Graduates are an investment in our country's future and the fear is that an uncertain job market, coupled with the government's obsession over earnings, will turn talented people away from university, which is not what the UK needs if we are to become a high-skill high-wage economy."

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