Masters graduates weather recession storm better than first degree counterparts

Masters graduates were less affected by the early stages of recession, experiencing lower levels of unemployment than their first degree counterparts, but harder times are expected to follow, reveals a study by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), published today.

HECSU’s What do Masters Graduates Do? shows the unemployment rate increased 0.4 percentage points to 4.1% in 12 months for the 32,195 Masters students surveyed in January 2009 and who graduated in 2008. However, there was a significant difference between part-time and full-time Masters graduates (2.2% and 5.8% respectively). In November 2009 HECSU reported that over the same period, the unemployment rate for first degree university leavers had increased 2.4 percentage points to 7.9%.  

The research published in Graduate Market Trends, HECSU’s quarterly guide to higher education research, shows the first signs of recession in the job market for Masters graduates. Charlie Ball, deputy research director at HECSU says: “Compared to the increase in unemployment for first degree graduates over the same time period, this cohort has been less affected. We expect that the full effects of the economic downturn will be more apparent for the most recent crop of Masters graduates.

“The research also showed a very small increase of 0.7% in the number of Masters graduates since the previous year, which I’d expect to increase as the effects of the recession continue to be felt on the graduate labour market.”

What do Masters Graduates Do? also reveals that there are two distinct groups of Masters students. Part-time learners are frequently mature and experienced in the job market, with many returning to previous employment. They often go into professional and managerial roles and are typically less likely to experience underemployment or unemployment on graduating.

Full-time Masters students are those often seen as more ‘typical’, embodying the view of young people moving straight from their first degree. They are less likely to be experienced in the labour market, are more likely to experience underemployment and unemployment as well as continue in education. They also have different employment outcomes, being more likely to enter social or conservation roles or go into sales, marketing or the media.

Charlie adds: “As the figures show, the view of Masters graduates generally being young, new first degree graduates moving seamlessly from first degree to postgraduate study is inaccurate, and Masters students are a much more diverse body. This has significant implications for information and guidance for Masters graduates.”

Graduate Market Trends (GMT) is now available on

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