Graduate unemployment rises

The number of jobless degree-holders jumps, but figures reveal some institutional pockets of employability excellence. Hannah Fearn reports

July 19, 2009

The difficulties facing graduates in the job market have been underlined by the latest figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

According to Hesa’s performance indicators, the proportion of graduates who were unemployed six months after they left university rose by more than a third, from 5.7 per cent to 8.2 per cent, in 2007-08. Since then, the economic situation has worsened.

The number known to be in employment fell from 63 per cent to 61 per cent, while 15 per cent went on to further study and 7 per cent to study and work.

The figures also revealed the universities that produced the most employable graduates.

The University of Buckingham topped the employability table, with 100 per cent of its 2007-08 cohort going on to work or further study.

The university put its success down to its size. Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of Buckingham, said: “We have a comprehensive programme of employability skills sessions and, because we are so small, we can tailor our support to individual students.”

The Robert Gordon University also did well, with 98 per cent of its students finding work or continuing to study.

Mike Pittilo, its vice-chancellor, said that employability was a key focus for the university, pointing out that all its courses had either an industry or public-sector steering group, and that the majority of undergraduates completed a work placement during their degree.

London Metropolitan University had the worst record, with just 78.8 per cent of its graduates in work or study within six months of completing their studies.

A London Met spokesman said: “We continue to build our relationships with employers and support our students by providing guidance about employment and educational opportunities.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the Hesa figures made for “grim reading”.

“Unemployment is an increasingly worrying theme for the sector at the moment, with news of jobs cuts at universities reaching us on a daily basis,” she said.

“The Prime Minister said he would not let education be a victim of the recession, but these figures, coupled with the constant news of redundancies, does little to reassure us.

“The fact that graduates are entering such a tough job market with record levels of debt must be a cause for concern for all of us.”

Keith Herrman, deputy chief executive of the Council for Industry and Higher Education, said that the Hesa figures painted a bleak picture but added that the current situation might be even worse because the data were drawn from a period before the depths of the recession.

However, he noted that there had been a positive side-effect on undergraduate attitudes towards skills and work.

“The recession has forced many graduates and students to think critically about how they equip themselves with the necessary skills for the world of work,” he said.

Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group, said she was pleased with figures showing that about 19 out of 20 graduates from its member institutions went on to work or study within six months of completion.

“Now more than ever, employers want graduates who are good at problem-solving, are entrepreneurial and able to handle uncertainty,” she said.

Oxford leads in outside earnings

The University of Oxford earned the most external income from research grants and contracts in the 2007-2008 academic year, new data show.

The figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that Oxford attracted £283 million in funding over the period. Imperial College London was second with £255 million, and the University of Cambridge third with £242 million.

The money is over and above that allocated on the back of the research assessment exercise and includes funding from research councils and companies.

But the data also show that while Oxford may have attracted the most money, its staff costs were higher than Imperial’s and Cambridge’s, and it did not produce as many PhDs as its ancient rival. – Zoë Corbyn

Top 20 winners of external grant income with number %3Cbr /%3Eof PhD awards and total academic staff costs
 Total research grants & contracts (£000's)Number of Ph.Ds awardedTotal academic staff cost (£000's)
The University of Oxford282804850114158
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine255272593748
The University of Cambridge241500950110056
University College London210906610147024
The University of Manchester174365830154235
The University of Edinburgh141933495101003
King's College London118440305110051
The University of Glasgow11553034083849
The University of Leeds10115046088053
The University of Liverpool9302124077615
The University of Sheffield9128440584587
The University of Bristol8978535580037
The University of Birmingham8952245091794
The University of Southampton8426245085307
The University of Nottingham83757540110553
Cardiff University7959635096308
The University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne7540130077079
The University of Warwick6160025571799
Queen Mary and Westfield College6061819562611
The University of Dundee542269048228
Data source: HESA research output per institution: %3Ca href%3D""target%3D_blank"%3E

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