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17 November – World Student’s Day

It Doesn’t Pay to Go to Some Universities


The widening gulf in the pay and job prospects of students at Britain’s best and worst-performing universities are revealed today in the first league tables to show how graduates fare in the careers market.

The figures published in The Sunday Times University Guide, show that former students of Imperial College London were the best paid six month after they graduated last year, earning an average of &24,247.

This was almost twice the pay level at Aberystwyth, the lowest-ranked institution.

Imperial’s graduates are also among the least likely to be in jobs that they believe could have been done by a non-graduate, with only 11.1% falling into this category. By contrast 53.7% of former students at the University of Wales, Lampeter, believed they were in non-graduate jobs.

Experts say the poor employment performance of some universities casts doubt on the wisdom of Tony Blair’s target that half of British school leavers should go to university.

«If graduates from higher education think they are going to get an interesting job on a good salary that will give them a middle- class career, many of them will be disappointed», said Philip Brown, professor of sociology at Cardiff University and co-author of The Management of Talent, a book published earlier this year that claims the economy is producing too few graduate jobs to absorb all university leavers.

Brown added: «Employers think there is a shortage of real talent so that they pay the really talented a lot of money, but there is a glut of what they see as run-of-the-mill graduates».

Competition is becoming increasingly fierce for graduate jobs, with an average of 40 applicants for each vacancy and growing number of foreign job seekers sending in online applications from Asia and Eastern Europe.

Anthony Hesketh, a management lecturer at Lancaster University and Brown’s co-author, said: «If you have got less than 300 Ucas (Universities and Colleges Admissions service) points (three Bs or equivalent) it might not even be worth going to university if you are dreaming of one of those coveted graduate jobs».

The figures published in the Sunday Times guide have been gathered by the Higher Education Statistics Agency from more than 182,000 students who graduated last summer and were asked about the jobs they held on January 15 this year.

They show that the national average starting salary for graduates is £16,393, while 7,1% are unemployed six months after leaving university.

On average, almost one-third of graduates believe they are in jobs that they could have obtained without going through a three-year degree course and amassing £20,000 debts.

London colleges – including University College, the Sunday Times University of the Year – head the table of graduate earnings, filling the top five places. This can partly be attributed to the higher salaries paid in the capital and also to the presence of big medical schools in four of the top five.

Several other universities also perform well. Graduates from Dundee, in ninth place, earn an average starting salary of £18,884, with Aberdeen close behind on £18,685.

In terms of both starting salary and standard of job, the traditional elite institutions dominate the league tables. Some new universities, however, are performing well. Many offer targeted courses, often highly regarded for particular professions. They include London South Bank, the only former polytechnic in the top 10 for graduate earnings. It is also in the top 20 for low numbers of students in non-graduate level jobs.

Oxford Brookes, which has a renowned course for potential managers in the hospitality industry, foe example, comes near the top. Only 23.1% of its graduates are in jobs that a non-graduate would have been qualified to do, a better figure than that achieved by neighbouring Oxford University.

Job-hunting is likely to become increasingly difficult for graduates who do not get into top universities or find highly regarded courses at lower-ranked institutions.

Suzie Perry, 23, who graduated last year from the University of the West of England in Bristol with a 2:1 in business studies, has still not managed to find a steady job and is working as a temporary secretary in London. «I must have sent out about 100 CVs,» she said. «Everybody has a degree these days so it counts for less. But there just aren’t enough jobs out there for all the graduates. A lot of my friends are in the same situation.»

Carl Gillear, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said: «The middle-of-the-road institutions are perhaps very traditional in their outlook, with a lot of academics who have not quite come into åhe 21st century and where the students are not performing as well on gradation because they are not switched on.”

Some of the best-performing universities point out, however, that the education they offer is not simply about finding a well-paid job. Gordon Chesterman, director of the careers service at Cambridge, said: «We are not here to prepare students for «oven ready» jobs. We are here to produce scholars. »


Jane Hopkings

/The Sunday Times, ¹ 22, 2005/



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