OVER the next two months final-year university students will be gearing up for their exams, enjoying a last party or two and, all being well, donning their academic finery for the graduation ceremonies that officially mark the end of student days. But what happens next? According to a report published today, the future for many of the Class of 2005 graduates is dispiriting.
The UK Graduate Careers Survey 2005 is one of the largest independent studies of university students. It is based on face-to-face interviews with more than 16,000 finalists at 30 universities carried out six weeks ago by High Fliers Research, in association with The Times. The research shows that little more than a third of this yearÃ†s new graduates expect to find a job after university - one of the lowest results recorded. Fewer finalists have made job applications this year and just one student in six questioned thought there were enough graduate jobs available for those leaving university this summer.
Although there have been some recent improvements in the graduate job market, the view that there are not enough jobs to go round is realistic. While the number of graduates leaving university has increased by almost two thirds during the past decade, the number of graduate-level vacancies has grown by less than a tenth.
As an alternative to employment, a quarter of this year's final-year students plan to continue their studies with a postgraduate course, often because they feel 'under-qualified' with just a first degree and believe that an extra qualification will strengthen their CV.
Sadly, recent research from the Association of Graduate Recruiters shows that this may be a very expensive career mistake. Just one employer in 20 is prepared to pay any premium for applicants with postgraduate degrees and unless a masters or PhD is directly relevant to the job it is unlikely to count during the selection process.
For finalists who are heading for employment in 2005, the most popular destinations are teaching, media and marketing, although more students applied for jobs in investment banking and accountancy earlier in the recruitment season.
The top three priorities for student job hunters this year are job location, starting salary and type of work. Finalists are looking for average starting salaries of £19,800, a 4 per cent increase on last year's expectations, but still some way below the £22,000 that the Association of Graduate Recruiters says top employers are offering this year.
More students want to work within the M25 than anywhere else. Perceptions of higher starting salaries, a better choice of employment and a vibrant social life persuade many to head for London.
Despite all the uncertainty about finding a graduate job, few finalists expect to stay long with their first employer. The average is just three years and a fifth of students expect to have changed employer at least three times during their first ten years of work.
Martin Birchall is managing director of High Fliers Research and editor of The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers