One of Britain's top universities is offering this summer's graduates £2,000 to stay on for further studies, rather than risk seeking employment during the recession.
The move by Durham University is a tacit acknowledgement that even the brightest students in the country may struggle to find jobs when they leave academia.
It will also ensure Durham has access to students who can carry out top quality research – and reduce the percentage of students from the university highlighted in league tables as having left without employment.
Under the package, more than 100 of Durham's top home and overseas graduates will be in line for the first time for a scholarship to help them with the cost of enrolling for a postgraduate course.
The university said the scheme was initially being introduced for one year only but would be reviewed and perhaps extended.
It comes at a time of growing concern over graduates' employment prospects for the coming autumn. The Independent disclosed last week that ministers were considering moves to reduce the number of highly skilled migrants allowed into Britain, fearing that many of this summer's record 400,000 graduates will fail to find work.
Phil Woolas, the Immigration minister, said he wanted to tighten the points-based system for people outside the EU so they do not take up jobs that might otherwise go to British graduates.
Vacancies for graduates have fallen by 17 per cent in 12 months, according to a study last month by High Fliers Research, which conducts an annual graduate recruitment survey of the top 100 graduate recruiters. The biggest fall has been in investment banking jobs: down year-on-year by 47 per cent.
"We've launched this scholarship because we recognise that, even for the most academically able and talented graduates, it's a tough economic environment in which to seek employment," said Professor Anthony Forster, pro-vice-chancellor (learning and teaching) at the university.
"We want to give our graduates an extra incentive to build on their skills, ensuring they are in the very best position to get a firm footing on the career ladder."
Founded in 1832, Durham is consistently ranked in the top 10 universities in the UK. The recent Complete University Guide, published in conjunction with The Independent, put it in sixth position nationwide for its quality of teaching and research.
It is the first university in the country to make such an offer to this summer's graduates – although many others have acknowledgement the number of students seeking to stay on in full-time studies this autumn is likely to soar.
Postgraduate courses on offer under the scheme will help improve academic knowledge, analytical and problem solving skills and research, says the university.
Those who are successful in obtaining a scholarship will have to live in one of its 16 colleges for the year. In all, 102 scholarships will be offered under the scheme.Reuse content