Class of 2011: 20,000 struggling to find paid jobs

Many recent graduates are working without pay or have taken on low-paid menial jobs

More than 20,000 of the class of 2011 were still unemployed six months after they graduated from university, it was revealed yesterday. A further 10,720 graduates were forced to snap up menial jobs such as caretaking, cleaning or administrative work in schools, according to figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

There was also a major increase in the number of graduates working for no pay – either volunteering, working for charities or on work experience with employers, as The Independent revealed earlier this week.

In all, 4 per cent of those who said they were in employment (around 6,000 graduates) were in voluntary or unpaid work – a 23 per cent increase on the previous year. This trend was described as "worrying" by Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. "If it continues it will make it even more difficult for disadvantaged young people to justify staying in education after 16," he said. "At a time when university fees are increasing, this is yet another disincentive for students from poorer backgrounds to aspire to university."

Headteachers have been expressing concern for some time that cuts to careers services have reduced the chances of young people having face-to-face meetings with an adviser.

Overall, yesterday's figures showed that of the 224,045 graduates in 2011, just over 140,000 went into full-time employment. Far more women (82,655) than men (57,425) secured full-time jobs. Men, however, were more likely to be unemployed than women (10,860 compared with 9,760), suggesting they may have been fussier about the type of employment they were prepared to take up.

In terms of those deciding to remain in full-time study, women were again in the ascendancy – 19,260 compared with 16,100 men. Of those in employment, 69 per cent were in full-time paid work, 22 per cent were employed part-time, 5 per cent were self-employed or freelance and 4 per cent were doing unpaid voluntary work.

Most of those who found jobs were in professional or managerial occupations, but 10,720 were in what was described as "elementary occupations" while a further 755 were involved in working as plant or machinery operatives.

A further 10,295 described themselves as being involved in "personal service occupations" – which included working in call centres.

The figures came on the same day as the Office for Fair Access released details of agreements signed with universities to encourage more participation from disadvantaged communities

Cambridge, for instance, has said it wants to boost the number of recruits from "low participation neighbourhoods" from 3.1 to 4 per cent by 2016/17. Oxford wants them to rise from 9.4 per cent to 13 per cent.