Go Higher: Scotland and Northern Ireland - Just the job: Scotland & Northern Ireland

FINISHING YOUR course and getting through finals isn't the end of student troubles. For the vast majority of graduates, seeking work is the biggest single worry. However, despite rising numbers of people entering higher education, employment rates are relatively high.

The average rate of employment for graduates six months after completing courses in Scotland and Northern Ireland is 66 per cent. Of these, one in six will go into a job loosely categorised as management or administration - ranging from working in Government departments to shops, while nearly 50 per cent will move into "professional" jobs.

The highest employment rates tend to be for those who have completed vocational courses such as law, medicine and accountancy, but as many as one in 10 graduates opt for a professional teaching post of one kind or another.

Northern Ireland does tend to have lower graduate employment rates for those remaining in the province but, as with most places, specialist skills such as computing and IT are very much in demand.

Student employment rates in Scotland are higher, with Heriot-Watt taking the lead with a graduate employment rate of over 89 per cent within a year of graduation. This is due in some part to the specialist nature of Heriot-Watt courses, and also to their strong ties with industry.

The losers in all areas are arts and social science graduates. Without vocational skills, their qualifications can seem a little unwieldy, and there is no set pattern to their employment. The successful tend to be those who have found other ways of gaining experience.

Voluntary work in an area that you have an interest in can be of great use, and shows a commitment to working without reliance on pay, and work placements with companies can be an excellent foot-in-the-door step. Building relationships with prospective employers means you are known, and therefore a safer employment bet.

Another option for graduates is post-graduate study. If funding can be found, this drastically increases the chances of employment. Of graduates from 1995-6, those who went on to complete post-graduate courses reduced their chances of unemployment to one in 20. At the moment about one in five graduates are entering further study.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have flourishing technology industries. New companies are being established all the time, and often start with a number of recent graduates because of their fresh perspective on work.

Those who move away from their base of study tend to be more likely to gain employment. It is as yet unknown, though, how this likelihood is affected by those students who return to their home areas, and how many already have employment offers before leaving their place of study.

A rising field, and one ever-popular with graduates, is the media. Scotland is enjoying something of an Indian summer in the media industries, with the devolved BBC network, a new Channel 4 Glasgow office, and much discussion over the blossoming Scottish film industry.

As the days of heavy industry in Belfast and Scotland are left way behind, communication, media and new technologies will become the new focus for regional industry. These are the future graduate employers, so students need to keep a close eye on what's happening.


Robin Cook: Foreign Secretary and graduate of Edinburgh University