Employment prospects for French graduates worsened dramatically between the late 1980s and early 1990s, according to a survey by the government-sponsored research centre Cereq (Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches sur les Qualifications).
For the entire range of newly qualified job-seekers the average period of unemployment lengthened, permanent posts became more scarce and salaries dropped.
But, the report says, the job market itself held relatively steady - it was the soaring increase in the number of graduates which led to difficulties.
Even if economic recovery leads to an expansion of the job market, it forecasts, the total pool of unemployed graduates will not be fully absorbed because the rise in numbers is set to continue.
In conclusion, it says, the assumption that higher education leads to managerial-level employment can no longer be systematic and reports that "the phenomena noted in this survey reflect a profound change in the process of transition from study to employment". Cereq's survey compares nearly 5,000 1992 graduates to their 1988 counterparts. It points out that in 1988, the job market for graduates was particularly buoyant with employers confident in strong growth and competing for college leavers.
In contrast, 1992 marked a low point in the recession, just as the massive expansion of higher education bumped up the number of graduates in the job market by 25 per cent.
The impact on pay affected all types of graduate, bringing starting salaries back down to mid-1980s levels in real terms. Between 1991 and 1994, the mean salary for business school-leavers dropped from 12,500 francs (Pounds 1,600) a month to 10,000 francs. This group of graduates also entered employment at markedly lower levels, with only 53 per cent finding managerial posts, compared to 77 per cent of their 1988 predecessors.
Over the same period, average pay for holders of a technical diploma sank from 7,000 to 6,000 francs a month. Both these groups found fewer openings in industry.
Along with lower pay, more job-finders got only temporary employment. While 54.5 per cent of graduate first jobs were permanent posts in 1988, only 46 per cent of the 1992 first-time job-finders obtained permanent employment.
The survey looked at graduate unemployment first at nine months and then two-and-a- half years after graduation, when 11.5 per cent of all categories were still unemployed - more than twice the rate for their 1988 counterparts.
Science graduates generally fared worse than arts graduates. A high 14 per cent of third-level science graduates were still without work 30 months after completing their studies. Again, this rate was associated with rapid expansion - the number of third-level science students doubled between 1988 and 1992.
Arts graduates at MA level had the lowest average unemployment, a fact which the report links to improved job opportunities in their traditional career areas of teaching and social services.
The survey suggests that structural change is now affecting post-graduate entry into the labour market. In 1992/93, 77,000 graduates under 28 years old obtained managerial-level jobs, while the number of graduates entering the market stood at 160,000.