Starting rates for new graduates grew by 6.4 per cent to pounds 15,500 last year - the third year running that the increase comfortably outpaced the growth in earnings for the rest of the working population.
Recent graduates also saw their salary progression outstrip that of colleagues. Students recruited in1996 at a median pounds 14,774 were receiving pounds 17,000 a year later - a rise of 15 per cent, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters.
After three years, those taken on in 1994 for pounds 13,500 now earn pounds 21,000 - a massive 56 per cent increase. Following the introduction of student loans and the extension of tuition fees to full-time undergraduates, potential recruits to companies are particularly keen to enjoy rapid increases early on in their careers.
However, money was by no means everything, the association argues in its latest annual survey. The quality of training on offer, the variety of work, long-term prospects and access to professional accreditation are more important in keeping recruits than salary, it contends. Once young people are recruited, they tend to stay put. Some 95 per cent stay with their first-time employers for a year, while 7 out of 10 graduates taken on in 1994 were still with the same organisation three years later.
Members of AGC - mostly large and medium-sized organisations - have an increasing appetite for graduates. Having increased their intake by 13 per cent last year, members calculate they will need 18.5 per cent more in 1998.
Employers, however, predict a more modest increase in starting salaries this year of around 3.2 per cent to pounds 16,000 - a prophesy which might have more to do with wishful thinking than scientific prediction.
More than half of the 264 respondents reported that they were unable to fill all the vacancies - although the shortfall was said not to be severe. The consensus view was that while there was invariably a large pool of applicants for jobs, it was difficult to identify the high calibre candidates.
There were complaints about the "skill mix" from those holding degrees in scientific and technical disciplines. Although academic competence was not doubted, there was concern over the lack of "interpersonal skills and commercial awareness".
Roly Cockman, chief executive of the association, emphasises that a degree is worthwhile. "The message from this survey is that, even with the projected financial implications for students, university education is potentially a very good investment, particularly if they acquire some work experience as well as a good degree."
GRADUATE STARTING SALARIES
1996 (pounds ) 1997(pounds ) Change(%)
18,000 19.225 6.8
16,000 16,850 5.3
14,575 15,500 6.4
13,902 14,713 5.8
13,000 14,000 7.7
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