Many employers put them at the bottom of the heap when they are recruiting new graduates.
The study from the University of Cardiff of nearly 400 of the top graduate employers raises questions about the Government's policy of charging students the same tuition fee wherever they choose to study.
From September, all students will be charged pounds 1,000 a year for tuition regardless of their subject or institution. Some of the best-known universities are already challenging the Government's determination to stop them charging more.
More than a quarter of the employers in the study target only a small number of "top" universities. Two-thirds of employers targeted universities they rated most highly. Overall, companies put universities with whom they had close ties at the top of the list for graduates who interested them most - and that included a few new universities.
They were more interested in whether universities required a high A-level point score than their age or prestige. So graduates from redbrick and 1960s universities, such as Warwick and Lancaster, are in as much demand as those from Oxbridge and ancient universities such as Durham and Edinburgh. New universities came last.
Dr Anthony Hesketh, who carried out the survey, said: "The implications for the debate about fees are pretty hot. It is going to be very difficult to avoid differential fees for different types of university."
Dr Geoffrey Copland, of the Coalition of Modern Universities and vice- chancellor of the University of Westminster, said: "There is a problem. Some companies recruit in the image of people they have always recruited. But our graduates are often employed in local firms where they have been on sandwich placements, or by smaller companies."
According to the survey funded by Hobsons, the publishers, employers are not disenchanted with the standard of graduates despite the big expansion in student numbers during the last decade.
Around three-quarters think standards have stayed the same or are improving. Most employers rated the performance of the graduates they employed highly.
Those from the redbrick universities had even higher ratings than those from Oxbridge.
Generally, graduates were better at learning new material quickly and having new ideas than they were at being efficient and reliable.
The research reveals a mismatch between the skills employers want and those that most graduates possess.
Technical skills, numeracy and information technology skills are much less important to employers than the ability to communicate and to work in a team. Even in science and engineering jobs, the latter are highly rated.
Dr Hesketh suggests that the emphasis on the need for universities to teach more information technology in last year's Dearing review of higher education may be misplaced.
The salaries new graduates can command vary hugely from just pounds 7,500 in a small business to pounds 28,000 in a merchant bank. The average salary is pounds 15,100. Just 5 per cent of jobs for new graduate pay more than pounds 20,000.
There is no sign that the market for graduates is declining, despite universities' increased output. Only 2 per cent of employers expected the number of graduates they took on to decrease and a fifth were expecting to increase recruitment.
Dr Hesketh believes that the rising expansion of the graduate labour force is sustainable. "Those students who are wondering whether it is worth paying fees at university should go ahead and do it," he said.Reuse content