Graduates turn to public sector as unemployment reaches highest in 12 years

The unemployment prospects for university leavers have seen a year-on-year increase of 44%, rising to a highest level in 12 years, reveals a study by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU).

The rate of unemployment increased 2.4 percentage points to 7.9% for the 220,065 students surveyed in January 2009 and who graduated in 2008, reveals HECSU’s What Do Graduates Do? published today (2 November 2009). The last time graduate unemployment reached this level was in 1995/6 (8.1%).

The construction industry has been particularly hard hit, as architecture and building graduate unemployment more than doubled from 2.9% in 2007 to 8.5% for 2008 leavers. Similarly, unemployment for civil engineering graduates increased from 2.4% to 7%.

What Do Graduates Do? also showed that despite the recession, public sector recruitment continues to be buoyant with a year-on-year increase of graduates entering healthcare, teaching and social work. Just under 5,100 graduates worked as medical practitioners or pre-registration house officers, compared with 4,430 in 2007(15% increase). Graduate physiotherapists, occupational and speech therapists increased 17% from 2,235 to 2,625.

Similarly, the number of secondary school teachers rose by 14% from 1,850 to 2,110, and the number of educational administrators and language assistants increased substantially by half. Social work was also buoyant with a 55% increase since 2007 to over 2,500 graduates. Graduates in sports instructing and coaching have also increased – 17% to 1,400.

Unsurprisingly, the number of 2008 graduates going into business or financial work was down: 7.5% of graduates worked in this area in 2008, compared with 8.7% in 2007. The number of graduates working as financial and investment analysts/advisers or mortgage consultants dropped 19% from just under 2,100 in 2007 to just under 1,700 in 2008. IT occupations also saw a year-on-year decrease. IT consultants, software professionals and computer programmers fell 18% from 2,980 to just under 2,450, whilst those working as IT support decreased by 15% from 795 to 675.

Mike Hill, chief executive of HECSU comments: “We’re now starting to see the extent of the impact the recession has had on graduate employment. Despite unemployment increasing, for those who have found a job, salary levels are holding up. Any signs of economic recovery may not be reflected in the destinations of new graduates until the 2010 graduating cohort. In fact it’s likely that unemployment for 2009 graduates may be even higher than that reported here. However, graduates shouldn’t feel disheartened, many organisations continue to recruit and a degree will certainly remain valuable for many years to come.”  

For those that reported their salaries in What Do Graduates Do? the average salary was £19,677, an increase of 2% from 2007. Unsurprisingly, graduates working in London reported the highest mean salary at £22,570, but the lowest year-on-year average salary rise (0.4%). Conversely, the average salary in Scotland saw the largest year-on-year increase (5.6%). With a reported average figure of £19,953, this was better than that in the South East (£19,561), which is traditionally the second highest paid region after London.   

The What Do Graduates Do? data was collected via the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

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