Rising pay the lure for graduates

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The Independent Online

Gloomy tales of graduate unemployment in recent years do not appear to be deterring people from applying to university, according to official figures, due to be released later this month, which show demand for places is still buoyant.

At the pre-Christmas closing date for applications to enter university this autumn, 342,000 people had applied, compared with 347,000 at the same time last year - a 1.5 per cent annual fall.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service will spend the rest of the month analysing the figures, but one area that is thought to have experienced a fall in demand is overseas applications.

According to figures released today, starting salaries for new graduates are beginning to increase faster than the rise in average earnings - and salaries of graduates employed for longer periods show even bigger rises.

Salaries for new graduates are now not far below the earnings average for the workforce as a whole, with pounds 14,362now the median starting salary and examples as high as pounds 22,000 reported from the banking and finance sector.

Three years after recruitment, graduate salaries have increased by 45 per cent, compared with a 10 per cent increase in average earnings over the same period, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).

Roly Cockman, executive officer for the association, said yesterday: "Some graduates are unemployed temporarily but their chances of good and worthwhile employment are far, far better overall."

Recruitment of graduates was down last year by 2.6 per cent. A 21.5 per cent increase in graduate vacancies for graduates in industrial organisations was cancelled out by a fall of 12.5 per cent in the non- industrial sector, which recruits a greater number of graduates,

Yet more than a quarter of firms belonging to AGR reported they had not recruited all the graduates they needed.

This was due in part to firms leaving it until the last minute to advertise vacancies, but also to difficulties finding candidates with the right mix of personal and academic skills. AGR members, which include many leading British businesses,are predicting a 13 per cent rise in demand for graduates this year.

t A-level exams should be abolished because they are irrelevant, a former top civil servant said yesterday, writes Judith Judd.

Sir Geoffrey Holland, permanent secretary at the Department for Education until two years ago and now Vice-Chancellor of Exeter University, said A-levels should be replaced by a single qualification to end a divide between vocational and academic courses.

His speech, to the North of England education conference, comes as Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, is reviewing qualifications for 16-19-year-olds.

Sir Ron Dearing, the Government's chief exams adviser, whose report will be published in March, is expected to recommend ways of bridging the gap between academic and vocational courses but to stop short of abolishing A-levels.

Sir Geoffrey outlined a list of reforms to help improve its educational performance. "In general, 13-year-olds in English schools lag two years behind continental equivalents and they never catch up," he said, advocating a move away from an age-related system, with pupils taking exams at 16 and 18. Exams should be taken when people were ready to take them, he added.