Students opt out of job market

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BLUE-CHIP companies are struggling to attract enough recruits as students opt to travel round the world rather than enter the job market.

A survey of 11,427 finalists at 25 leading universities reveals that up to a third of those graduating this summer who want a job have been put off applying because of pressure to complete course work and worries over their final exams. Instead, they intend to take time off, go travelling or enrol on postgraduate courses.

Martin Birchall of High Fliers Research, an independent research organisation that did the survey, said graduates who sacrificed job prospects for a good degree were making a mistake. Personal skills and work experience were often more important.

The survey found a big fallin the number of graduates expecting to join the job market this year. Just 29 per cent of finalists expected to start a full-time job soon after university and a further 14 per cent thought they would be looking for work. Last year's combined figure was 49 per cent. One in six is preparing to travel and one in nine to take a voluntary or temporary job.

Yet salary expectations for new graduates have risen sharply, up 9 per cent since last year. The average expected starting salary is pounds 16,700 and one in five foresees a salary of about pounds 20,000. Students at Oxford are the most confident of their future earnings: they expect to be earning pounds 37,800 within five years, about pounds 10,000 more than their counterparts at Sheffield.

Management consultancy and marketing attracted the highest number of applications. Retailing, the Army and the police were among the least popular choices.

Mr Birchall said graduates who applied late would find that many of the best jobs had already gone. "It is very worrying that finalists have been put off from job hunting by the pressures of their degree courses, mistakenly believing that achieving a first or a 2.1 is the only route to a good job. For many employers, a graduate's personal skills, work experience and other career preparations are often much more important," he said.

Many universities have done little to help students prepare for life after graduation and have instead continued to emphasise the importance of academic work.

Students were also asked to describe their long-term professional and personal aims. Only a third said they expected to marry or start a family by the time they were 30.