Job prospects for French graduates have worsened sharply with the number of unemployed one year after graduation soaring from 13 per cent in 1990 to 26 per cent in 1995.
This and other findings in a report just released by an official employment and income monitoring office, the Conseil superieur de l'emploi, des revenus et des cots (CSERC), shows a growing disparity between young people and the rest of the population.
The total proportion of jobless graduates who left higher education in the past five years has also doubled. Up until 1990, there were never more than 10 per cent out of work, while in 1996, 20 per cent of all those who had graduated since 1991 were unemployed.
"The jobless rate for graduates has never been this high," said CSERC rapporteur Jean-Michel Hourriez.
France has the lowest proportion of 20 to 24-year-olds in employment in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development countries, with just 52 per cent compared to the 69 per cent OECD average.
This is due partly to the continuing growth in the number of years in full-time education. The median age of departure from the education system is now 22 years. The trend is linked to lack of job prospects, which encourages students to stay on and take extra courses and qualifications.
The length of time between graduation and first employment has increased. Youth unemployment has shifted from the under-25s to the over-25s. In 1996, over half of the jobless aged under 30 were over 25 compared to 40 per cent in 1990.
"Graduate unemployment is affected by two trends - the far wider distribution of joblessness in society in the 1990s in general and the far higher proportion of graduates which means that university degrees do not have the same significance," said Mr Hourriez.
The CSERC report, based on data from the national statistics office, echoes recent findings in other surveys. CEREQ, the centre for studies on qualifications, has revealed a drop in both employment and salaries for graduates of university technical institutes.
Technical diplomas after two years' higher education used to be seen as one of the best routes into the job market but technical graduates are now facing competition for the same jobs from honours graduates. Another consequence of the graduate job crisis is a sharp rise in the numbers going abroad for their first job. Data from some of the grandes ecoles shows a clear trend. Ireland has now become the third most common destination, after England and Germany.