Careers experts and higher education heads have condemned claims that "second-rate" graduates from new universities are struggling to find jobs.
The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, holding its annual conference at Lancaster University this week, joined the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals in describing reports that "blue-chip" companies were no longer taking on students from the former polytechnics as "utter nonsense".
They pointed out that the claims flew in the face of figures produced by the Government last week which showed steady growth from 1984 to 1994 in the number of graduates finding permanent employment, and a reduction between 1993 and 1994 in the number believed to be unemployed.
University careers advisors say that many top companies, including IBM, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury's, are creating new employment opportunities and widening the recruitment field for graduates from old and new universities.
While some city firms and merchant banks with a tradition of taking on only a small number of graduates each year had stuck to their old recruitment habits and looked no further than the "top ten" old universities, most big companies were prepared to consider any graduate with the kind of personal qualities and experience necessary to succeed in business and industry.
Margaret Wallace, AGCAS president, said some firms had withdrawn from the annual talent-spotting milk round and were relying on contacts made through previously successful recruitment drives.
But she added: "Any sensible recruiter will be saying we will take talent wherever it comes from. What they may not be doing is going out of their way to solicit applications from some institutions."
Pat Raderecht, director of the Higher Education Careers Service Unit, said the graduate careers market had changed and broadened significantly in recent years.
"Graduates are now embarking on careers in areas like retailing or the police service. These are the new blue-chip graduate jobs which would never have been considered before," she said.
A spokesman for the CVCP said research had shown that more graduates from new as well as old universities were now finding employment leading to a career.
"It is utter nonsense to say graduates from new universities are being shunned. You can only draw that conclusion if you go to old city firms which only take on 20 graduates a year and are not about to change their traditional recruitment patterns," he added.