Environment students are being exploited by universities as "bums on seats", according to a leading campaigner and academic.
Shirley Ali Khan, director of the charity Sustainability First and a visiting professor at Middlesex University, said undergraduate and postgraduate environment and sustainable development courses at institutions across the country were out of touch, leaving students unable to find jobs.
The charity interviewed 50 recent UK graduates, at masters and bachelors levels, who wanted to find work relating to their studies. More than half the sample had environment degrees, about a third were geographers and the rest came from related courses.
Johanna Walker, an environment graduate who carried out the interviews, said: "Most interviewees felt very let down by their course providers. They complained of a mismatch between what they had been taught and the knowledge and skills necessary for the jobs open to them."
Professor Ali Khan said most students who opted for environment courses wanted to work in the field and they "tend to have passion and enthusiasm".
But perceived poor pay and lack of opportunities and career structure also led to a decline in applicants, according to report by the government's advisory committee on environmental education in 1993. A 1996 review by Professor Ali Khan reported little progress.
Jackie Rogers, of the University of the West of England's School of Geography and Environmental Management, said that employment rates were high, particularly in more vocational courses, and the school consulted regularly with industry, students and professional bodies.