Search for jobs grows tougher for graduates: One in eight still seeking work after six months. Fran Abrams reports

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GRADUATE unemployment continued to rise last year, with one university leaver in eight still looking for work after six months, a report published yesterday says.

University careers services say that the traditional 'milk round' during which employers recruit final-year students is disappearing, and that graduates must show new ingenuity in their search for work.

Art and design graduates had the most difficulty in finding jobs in 1992, with 23 per cent still unemployed last December, while law students were the most successful, with just 4 per cent still unemployed. The overall unemployment figure for graduates was 12.7 per cent, according to What Do Graduates Do?, which was designed to help students to choose the right courses. The choice between vocational and academic courses had little effect on students' employment chances, the report showed. Unemployment among business and management studies graduates was 12.7 per cent, while unemployment among chemists was 11.2 per cent. Forty per cent of students found permanent jobs.

A quarter of all students went on to further study after university, with 12 per cent taking academic courses and 4.6 per cent teacher training. Despite talk of a European jobs market for graduates, the number who went abroad to work was just 2.7 per cent.

However, school leavers with A-levels were twice as likely to be unemployed as graduates, and those who left school with no qualifications were three times more likely to be unemployed.

Despite the rising proportion of unemployed graduates, 2,000 more people found jobs after leaving university last year than in the previous year. This was because the number of graduates had risen, according to Andrew Whitmore, editor of the report and careers adviser at the University of Manchester and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Employers who had traditionally taken on school leavers with A-levels were now recruiting graduates instead, he said, and this meant that a much wider range of companies were in the graduate jobs market.

'An increasing number of employers of all types and sizes are changing their methods and timing of recruitment, which in turn adds to the pressure on job-hunting students,' he said. 'Graduates in the 1990s need tenacity, ingenuity and quite often that vital pinch of luck to succeed in the job hunt.'

A survey conducted by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), for whom the report was produced, has shown that for every 100 employers on the spring 'milk round' in 1991, there will be just 38 in the 'old' universities and 24 in the former polytechnics in 1994.

Margaret Wallis, president of AGCAS and director of the University of Warwick's careers service, said that higher education was an investment that was never wasted, even though students could not always expect a rapid return.

'There was never a time when graduates walked into jobs,' she said.

'That is a cruel myth that accentuates any current difficulties which graduates may experience.

'However, students and their families do need to have rather more realistic expectations about what may lie ahead for them,' she said.

An article on the House of Lords' debate on the Education Bill, published in the Independent on Wednesday 8 December, should have made clear that public funding of student unions is to be restricted to the areas of welfare, sport, catering and internal representation.