Graduates earn a degree of good fortune on pay

The economic recovery that has been an almost universally accepted fact for months seems at last to be spawning a similar upturn in the fortunes of an increasingly large section of the community: graduates. For the second consecutive year, starting salaries for those with a degree have grown at a faster rate than average earnings, according to a survey published this week.

What is more, at a time when unskilled workers can look forward to a bleak future in the world of knowledge, the 1997 survey of graduate salaries and vacancies from the Association of Graduate Recruiters shows that graduate salaries continue to outpace comfortably average earnings in the first three years of employment.

Even more encouragingly for those toiling away in pursuit of qualifications, predictions for this year suggest that starting salaries will show an even larger leap in size than they did in 1996. Meanwhile, the higher level of activity in the graduate labour market reflected in recruitment data collected by the organisation could also result in higher salaries as businesses anxious to expand again after a period of consolidation and cutbacks seek additional staff.

The report by the Association of Graduate Recruiters - which represents a range of employers, from the City law firm Allen & Overy through electronics group GEC to the consumer goods company Unilever and drugs manufacturer Zeneca - shows that the median starting salaries paid by industrial and non-industrial companies reached pounds 14,750 and pounds 14,699 respectively, while this year's median starting salary is expected to rise to pounds 15,325.

Though a fifth of graduates were recruited by organisations offering less than pounds 12,000 a year, the biggest group comprised those offered starting salaries of between pounds 14,000 and pounds 15,000.

Which category a graduate falls into depends largely on the qualities and expertise they can offer. More than a third of those responding to the survey carried out last year said they paid salary differentials - chiefly to recruits with postgraduate qualifications, relevant work experience, first-class degrees and sponsorships. The highest supplements - a median of about pounds 2,500 - tend to go to those with PhD/MPhil qualifications.

But among the areas of expertise most in demand - and therefore likely to command the largest premiums - are scientific, technical, engineering, research and development, though there are also shortfalls in buying, marketing and selling, environmental planning and construction.

"Workforce planning and staff turnover, along with changes to the general business climate, were considered to be the most likely influences on future demand," says the report. "The impact on future graduate demand of skill requirements and shortages, cost and funding issues and the globalisation of the economy were newly listed considerations this year"