Employment prospects for next year's graduates are likely to be just as bleak as those for the class of 2009, research shows.
A survey by the Association of Graduate Recruiters reveals more than half of the country's graduate recruiters believe there will be little change. One in nine think worse is still to come.
The survey, based on returns from 226 firms taking on university leavers, also shows that, for the first time, starting salaries are frozen at an average of £25,000 a year. Law firms are offering lower starting salaries than last year, at an average of £37,000, a one percentage point cut.
It also finds – in line with a similar survey by High Fliers Research last week – that the overall number of graduate vacancies has been slashed by one in four. This follows five consecutive years of growth in graduate jobs.
Competition for vacancies has intensified, too, with jobs attracting an average of 48 applications, up from 30 last year. One in seven employers is receiving 80 applications for each post.
Employers say a 2:1 degree pass remains the "gold standard" when it comes to assessing an individual's chance of getting a job. The report concludes: "The difficult economic climate appears to have all but eradicated the problem of recruitment shortfall."
Carl Gilleard, the chief executive of the AGR, said: "I wish we had better news to announce today but we cannot hide from the fact that dramatic vacancy cuts will make the job search for graduates very tough both this year and probably next year."
One spin-off from the recession has been that employers have noted a marked improvement in the quality of graduate applications. "It seems this year's graduates are taking particular care over their applications in the face of increased competition, with 40 per cent of employers reporting higher standards this year," says the report.
Job acceptances from graduates are also being sent back more quickly to employers. "This indicates that graduates feeling the effects of the economic situation are particularly keen to make a good impression and are making more of an effort in order to secure a position," the survey adds.