chriThe class of 2006: Six months on the dole and a job in a burger bar

But report shows that students remain  optimistic and positive about the future

Thousands may have spent more than six months on the dole, they are 50 per cent more likely than students a decade ago to end up in non-graduate jobs and they left university with 60 per cent more debts than their predecessors.

Not only were the class of 2006 the first to be saddled with £3,000-a-year tuition fees. Many also spent six months on the dole before finding a job after graduating in the teeth of the recession, with thousands forced to take menial work to eke out a living.

For good measure, their debts were 60 per cent higher than the generation who graduated before them.

The findings come from the first in-depth study of the class of 2006 – the “guinea pigs” for the initial top-up fees regime which has now been replaced by fees of up to £9,000 a year. The report by Futuretrack at Warwick University for the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU), traced 17,000 students and revealed that more than 10 per cent have faced substantial spells of unemployment – with men more likely to be on the dole queue than women.

Figures show 12.4 per cent of male graduates and 10.7 per cent of female graduates have spent at least six months in continuous unemployment. When the sample was whittled down to include just those taking traditional three-year degrees, 17.4 per cent of men and 13.3 per cent of women had spent six months without a job since graduating.

Overall, one in four men and one in five women had suffered at least one spell of unemployment.  And, when it comes to the kind of job they could get, 40 per cent had to make do with non graduate jobs – including menial tasks such as road sweeping or working in a burger bar – compared with 22 to 23 per cent in an earlier survey of the class of 1999. The students also left university with debts averaging £16,000.

But despite tough labour market conditions, the class of 2006 remain remarkably positive about the future  with 60 per cent of those in work satisfied with their job and two-thirds optimistic about long-term career prospects.

“What’s gratifying is that even in the wake of the recession, the onset of higher fees and large debts, graduates remain positive in the face of adversity with great confidence that their degree has been worth it,” said Jane Artess, research director at HECSU.

Class of 2006 case studies

CM, 26, is unemployed and owes more than £30,000 in student debt, three years after he graduating from Liverpool John Moores university with a 2:1 in politics.

After graduating in 2009 he stayed on in Liverpool for a one-year NCTJ journalism course – funded through bar and shop work. When that finished he moved home and got a job doing communications for a local charity for 11 months.

He then moved to London to study for a MA in international relations at the University of Westminster, which he funded with a £5000 career development loan and working in a bookshop.

“I was working full time for the minimum wage and trying to study as well. It was quite a bleak period but I don’t think it is that uncommon. Sometimes I just felt that I was struggling to keep on top of things. I still got decent marks on my essays but it felt like a constant scramble for deadlines because I had to work so many hours to simply be able to live in London.

“I am a naturally optimistic and enthusiastic person but even so there are times when you feel like your health is suffering because of the constant pressure. I am the kind of person who likes a good hard slog but I get the feeling that it is now much harder for people than it used to be.”

“I would like to work in policy or politics. I am currently unemployed but I write for a political blog. I had a job interview this morning to be a policy assistant for a charity and I’ve got a second interview for another one next week. Being a Parliamentary assistant would be one of my career goals. This is an area I would really enjoy and would make all the hard slog and bleak times worthwhile.

Lauren B, 24, graduated with a first from UCL in English in 2009. She spent two months looking for jobs before getting a four-month contract in business publishing and then soon after securing a permanent post that she “really enjoys”.

My first job after graduating involved fairly routine online research and only paid the minimum wage – but it was a job. At the end of the contract they offered me a full-time job but I’d already been offered two weeks’ freelance work as a copywriter. I took a big risk by turning down a full time job to do two weeks freelancing but I thought it might lead to other things.

Now I’m the senior writer for the Channel 4 Scrapbook website. I manage the whole website from the agency end. I love being a food writer. I hadn’t expected to be doing that. I’ve also started doing some freelance food reviews.

I probably owe around £30,000 in student  loans but I prefer not to think about it.