A record number of students graduating this year plan to go on to postgraduate study rather than face the job market, according to a survey.
The UK Graduate Careers Survey, based on interviews with final-year students from 30 universities, shows that for the first time in a decade more students aim to begin postgraduate courses than expect to go on to a full-time job.
The survey director, Martin Birchall, said: "Graduates leaving university this summer are turning their backs on the job market in record numbers."
A quarter of final-year students aim to continue studying, compared with 22 per cent of students who expect to begin a full-time job after graduating.
These results can be linked to low student confidence in the job market.
More than 85 per cent of final-year students believe there are insufficient graduate jobs for those leaving university this year.
Salary expectations have also dropped £200 from last year, with graduating students expecting to earn an average of £18,500 for their first job.
At the same time, the debts students expect to graduate with have soared to new levels. According to the survey, final-year students face average debts of £10,100 - almost double the figure in 2001.
Mr Birchall said: "The (government's top-up fees) scheme relies on new graduates finding well-paid jobs in order to repay substantial student loans after university - something that only a small minority of those graduating in 2003 have managed to do."
The most popular career choices for the "class of 2003" are jobs in the media, marketing and teaching, with one in ten students hoping to work in these fields.
The results show that students are keen to join employment areas that offer job security or are known to favour graduates. Applications have increased for retailing, law, teaching and the civil service. But applications for careers in information technology jobs are down 34 per cent on last year.
The UK Graduate Careers Survey, sponsored by The Times , was conducted by High Fliers Research Ltd.
* The graduate job market is static, according to figures released this week by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
Figures show that 66 per cent of those who graduated in 2000 had found work within six months of leaving university, compared with 67 per cent in 1999.
A further 20 per cent are continuing their education or training, and 7 per cent are assumed to be unemployed.
Of those employed in the UK, 16 per cent are in management, 25 per cent are in professions, 21 per cent in associated professional and technical jobs and 18 per cent in clerical and secretarial roles.