British universities produce some of the most employable graduates in Europe, according to a range of studies published this week.
The findings support claims that higher education drives the knowledge economy. They should dispel doubts that universities and colleges are inefficient at getting graduates into work and confirm their success in encouraging people from lower socioeconomic groups into higher education.
British graduates are more likely than their continental European counterparts to have a permanent, full-time job three years after graduation, says a study by John Brennan of the Open University's Centre for Higher Education Research and Information.
Some 87 per cent of British graduates were employed or self-employed three years after completing a degree, compared with a European average of 83 per cent. Of those working, 93 per cent were in full-time work and 82 per cent had a permanent contract - an indicator of a high-quality job - compared with European averages of 89 per cent and 77 per cent respectively.
Employment indicators published by the funding councils for the first time this week showed that almost every institution produces employable graduates. Four institutions recorded a 100 per cent employment rate six months after graduation, based on a survey response rate of between 74 and 86 per cent.
Higher education minister Baroness Blackstone said: "The employment rates show that graduates remain highly sought after by employers. Higher education offers real rewards, and we must continue to encourage everyone with the qualifications and determination to enter into higher education to do so."
Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "This is just the latest in a consistent trend of evidence that a university degree is highly valuable in a person's career. The employment performance indicators show that this is true whatever university in the United Kingdom the degree comes from. The evidence also shows that a degree keeps paying off as your career progresses. All universities in the UK can be proud of this record."
David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "High employment rates among graduates prove that higher education continues to be a sound investment for a government committed to opening up opportunity. Further investment is required in universities, particularly in academic and related staff, to ensure that these figures can be matched in future years."
Lecturers' union Natfhe said the employment rates were "a vindication of the new universities". Luton University topped the league tables with a 100 per cent employment rate - much higher than its expected result.
Another study, published by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, found that the unemployment rate three years after graduation was less than 3 per cent, lower than that for any other education group. Mike Hill, chief executive of the unit, said: "This is a very encouraging report for graduates, who can be confident that a degree will open doors for them at the beginning of their careers."
Better career prospects and improved earnings and job security are the main motivators encouraging potential students from lower social classes to enter higher education, according to a separate study published by the Institute for Employment Studies.
But it also found that employment was the main reason why suitably qualified people from lower socioeconomic groups decided against higher education. Many wanted to start work, earn money and be independent at an earlier age, or they had a career goal in mind that did not require a degree.
"The benefits of higher education study should be better and more widely communicated. In particular, outcomes associated with improved employability and finance need to be given more prominence," the report's authors suggested.
Mentors should be used more widely to help potential students who have little contact with people who have had recent experience of higher education, the report concluded.