Students due to graduate this summer are more pessimistic about their job prospects than at any time during the past decade, research published today suggests.
Their fears coincide with rising debts. The research shows that on average, a final-year student will owe £9,100 – a 50 per cent increase on last year's figure. This year is the first in which the entire cohort will have spent all their time at university under the new system in which they pay tuition fees of up to £1,200 a year.
Three quarters of respondents to the annual UK graduate careers survey said they believed the events of 11 September meant there would be fewer job vacancies for graduates this year.
The study also revealed more were choosing careers with greater job security – with the numbers expressing interest in engineering up by 13 per cent and accountancy up by 7 per cent. The number that had applied for teaching jobs was also up by 12 per cent although those who said they were interested in teaching, but had not yet applied, remained the same.
Jobs in marketing and the media were the most sought- after this year (they were second and third last year) but the numbers expressing an interest in these jobs showed a slight drop. The number of students opting for management consultancy has dropped by 25 per cent in the past year.
The survey, which covered more than 13,000 students in their final year of university, showed a big drop in the numbers believing they would either start a graduate job or be looking for a graduate job in the autumn, from 49 per cent in 1998 to just 39 per cent this year. In addition, more than two in 10 (23 per cent) thought they would have to take any job they were offered or accept a job with an employer they did not really want to work for.
On average, the students had submitted 10 per cent more applications for jobs than their counterparts last year.
Martin Birchall, of High Fliers Research Ltd, which runs the annual survey, said: "Graduates leaving university this summer are clearly concerned about their job prospects and are worried that fewer companies will be hiring graduates this year in the aftermath of 11 September. Students' confidence in the market is lower now than at any time in the past decade."
Students estimated that they would be £9,100 in debt on average – 50 per cent higher than the figure in the 2001 census.
Mr Birchall said: "With students' debt now averaging nearly £10,000, the pressure to find a graduate position with a top employer is more intense than ever – fewer vacancies means that many graduates from the class of 2002 face an uncertain start to their career."The Government is reviewing student finance because of a pledge by Tony Blair at last year's Labour Party conference. The findings are likely to be announced after Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, concludes his comprehensive spending review in July.
The survey also listed the average expected starting salaries of students. The highest expectations were among students from Imperial College at the University of London, who were looking forward to a £23,000-a-year starting salary. Those with the lowest hopes were from Queen's University, Belfast, who said they would expect £16,000.
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