Jobs boom meets rise in number of graduates

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

Fears that the recent massive increases in student numbers would lead to higher rates of unemployment among graduates appear to have been ill founded, figures published yesterday suggest.

Last year 15 per cent more students completed their degrees, the Department for Education and Employment said. And of the 130,000 graduates whose destination was known, 58 per cent went into employment, compared with 54 per cent in 1993. One-fifth went into further training and 1 in 10 was unemployed. Almost 6 out of 10 jobs were in industry and commerce.

There had been predictions that many graduates would find themselves unemployed or in menial jobs, but yesterday employers said the job situation was healthy. Unemployment among graduates was still lower than in the population as a whole, they said.

The number of female graduates has also risen dramatically. While the number of men completing degree courses has gone up by 60 per cent since 1984 the number of women has increased by more than 100 per cent, taking the proportion of women graduates to 49 per cent of the total.

Eric Forth, the minister for higher education, said a record 159,000 students had graduated last year - a rise of almost 80 per cent since 1984.

"Our higher education system is producing a greater number of highly skilled graduates than ever before. It is clear that employers appreciate the benefits of taking on graduates. They realise that we need highly qualified people if we are to retain our place in modern competitive world markets," he said.

Kate Orebi Gann, chair of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said the figures should be welcomed. The association's summer update had shown an even brighter picture this year, with a 17.5 per cent increase in graduate vacancies.

"It does look healthy, with the increase in the industrial sector higher than that in the non- industrial sector. It looks as if manufacturing was improving after having some years in the doldrums," she said.

However, Bryan Davies, Labour's spokesman on higher education, warned that a freeze on student numbers in the past two years would soon affect graduation levels.

"Combined with increased drop-out rates from higher education, this will mean that growth in the supply of highly-skilled graduates into the economy will dry up in the future," he said.