Students spurning traditional academic degrees for newer vocational courses to enhance job prospects may be making a mistake. New data published today show prospects are just as good in traditional disciplines.
Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showing the first destinations of students who graduated in 1996-97 reveal that unemployment rates are almost identical for graduates in history or English as they are for those in business studies or financial management.
The data run contrary to application figures revealed last week. These show students rejecting traditional humanities and pure sciences in favour of more vocational courses such as media, computing and business studies. The shift has been attributed to changing graduate employment opportunities.
But the HESA figures show that of those who graduated with first degrees in history, 7.3 per cent were assumed to be unemployed, compared with 7.2 per cent in business and management studies.
Graduates of the new and booming media studies degrees, grouped within the badly performing librarianship and information science subject area, had the worst prospects, with an unemployment rate of 10.9 per cent. This could be a result of overprovision by universities. Employment prospects among physical sciences graduates, where applications have plummeted by a quarter in three years, have steadily improved over the same period. The graduate joblessness rate fell from almost 10 per cent in 1995 to just 7.1 per cent in 1997.
Diana Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, noted that employment rates were affected by the varying numbers in each subject who went on to postgraduate study rather than straight into jobs, but she said it was clear more students were getting what they wanted out of higher education.
"Employment rates are increasing for new graduates across all subjects," she said. "That's good news for students and society."
In 1997, 62 per cent of all 264,300 higher education qualifiers entered employment, compared with 61 per cent in 1996. Only 6 per cent, 14,800, were unemployed, the same proportion as last year.
Of the first-degree graduates who entered employment, 30 per cent joined "professional occupations", 16 per cent were classified as "managers and administrators" and 16 per cent took "clerical secretarial" posts. Almost three-quarters of those who entered full-time employment were on permanent or long-term contracts.