Data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show 3.6 per cent of students who graduated in 2007 are believed to be unemployed three and a half years later.
Only 2.6 per cent of students who left university in 2005, and 2.3 per cent of those who finished in 2003, were out of work three and a half years after graduation.
The figures will fuel debate over whether there are too many graduates competing for jobs, although later university leavers will have been worse hit by the global recession.
Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: “Times are tough for young people, with rising unemployment no matter how well qualified they are.”
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, added: “The jobs market is now even tougher and new students entering a system with the highest public university fees in the world deserve better prospects.”
The statistics show graduates earned a median average salary of £25,000 three years after graduating – compared to £20,000 six months after leaving university.
Medics were the highest paid graduates, earning £40,000 annually three years after graduation – up from a starting salary of £29,000.
The lowest paid were those completing farming courses who earned an average of £20,000 after three years, compared to £17,000 six months after graduation.
Those finishing creative arts and design courses also fared badly, earning only £20,500 on average after three years, compared to £17,000 after six months.
Graduates from Russell Group universities were best paid, earning £,241 on average after three years. That figure was £26,900 for 1994 Group graduates, £24,000 for alumni of Million+ institutions and £25,000 for University Alliance organisations. GuildHE graduates picked up salaries of £23,000 on average after three years.
Meanwhile, 70.4 per cent of graduates thought their course had been good value for money and 76.5 per cent said their university experience had prepared them well for their career.
About 85 per cent of those in employment said their qualification had been helpful, important or necessary to get their current job.
Les Ebdon, chair of Million+ and vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, said: “This survey confirms that even in times of recession graduates achieve very high levels of employment.
“Studying at university for the degree you need to do the job that you want remains one of the best decisions that people can make and one of the best routes to getting a job even in very difficult economic times.”
David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said: “As these figures demonstrate, most graduates think their degree is financially as well as intellectually rewarding.”