Final-year students fear for their working future

Confidence in the graduate jobs market has dipped among final-year students and salary expectations have stagnated as universities prepare to introduce fees of up to £9,000 a year in the autumn.

May 22, 2012

Almost 18,000 final-year students at 30 universities – mainly research-intensive institutions – were surveyed in March for The UK Graduate Careers Survey 2012 by market research company High Fliers Research. Forty-two per cent of respondents described the graduate jobs market as “limited”, a 4 per cent rise on 2011, but still fewer than those who expressed a lack of confidence in 2009 and 2010.

On average, finalists expected to earn £22,600 per annum in their first position, the same as last year and £100 less than in 2008.

More than half the students surveyed at the London School of Economics expected to start on a salary of at least £30,000, compared with 3 per cent at Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Reading.

Respondents reported that they expected to have a record level of debt on graduation: £19,400, on average. This figure has more than doubled over the past decade.

Fifteen per cent of finalists either agreed or strongly agreed that they would not have gone to university if they had realised how competitive the job market would be. Yet 96 per cent of respondents said that they had enjoyed being at university and would recommend it to others.

The students were less sure that higher education had prepared them for the world of work, however, with 35 per cent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing that university had equipped them well for employment.

Forty-two per cent of finalists said they wanted to get a job when they finished, while a quarter intended to take a postgraduate course. Taking time off or travelling was the next step for 12 per cent, while 8 per cent expected to take up voluntary or temporary work and 13 per cent had no certain plans.

The respondents had submitted 360,000 job applications so far, the highest number on record and 17,000 more than at this stage last year.

Fewer students than in 2011 had applied for roles in engineering (down 16 per cent), the armed forces (10 per cent) and law (4 per cent). But there was a surge of interest in actuarial work, as well as in “buying and purchasing” roles, in which the number of applications rose by more than a quarter.

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