THE number of Scottish students achieving graduate-level jobs within six months of completing their course has dropped, according to new statistics.
• Graduation day is a time to celebrate, but for many it heralds a life without a job reflecting their years of education
In total 68.7 per cent of Scottish postgraduate and first degree qualifiers from Scottish institutions in 2007-8 were employed in graduate-level occupations, or engaged in further study.
The figure, which is used in national performance indicators, has fallen by 1.6 percentage points from 70.3 per cent from the previous year.
Critics warned the problem would escalate in future with record numbers going to university this year caused by lack of jobs in the recession.
Claire Baker, Labour higher education spokeswoman, said the figures showed the highest proportion of unemployment in first degree graduates since records began in 2003-4.
And she called for education secretary Mike Russell to urgently address the issue of graduates heading abroad for work.
Ms Baker said: "These figures paint a worrying picture for graduate employment in Scotland.
"A large proportion of people do one degree and from these figures it seems that they just aren't getting the opportunities they want in Scotland.
"It is clear that a Scottish brain drain is starting to take shape under the SNP and Mike Russell needs to address this urgently."
The statistics also showed that the number of people qualifying last year rose by 0.5 per cent to a record high of 83,335 in 2007-8, which is mostly attributed to a rise in postgraduates.
However, the number qualifying from Scottish colleges dropped by 3.7 per cent, down to 21,205.
The number of qualifications gained by overseas students increased by 10.5 per cent from 13,600 in 2006-7 to 15,025 in 2007-8, with the majority studying at postgraduate level – 63.1 per cent.
The number working overseas was 4.1 per cent, down from 4.7 per cent the previous year.
Margaret Smith, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, said: "Because of Labour's recession, more young people are out of work than ever before.
"They are deciding in their thousands to get a degree or training for work.
"There will be a significant increase in students graduating from Scotland's colleges and universities in the coming years.
"The government must not be caught napping on creating chances for these graduates.
"Scotland's young people are making a commitment to their future.
"They need to know that the Scottish and UK governments are working together to make sure that there are jobs for them when they graduate."
A spokeswoman from umbrella body Universities Scotland said: "The challenges facing those in the job market competition right now cannot be underestimated with 18-25-year-olds bearing the brunt."
Education secretary Mike Russell said he welcomed the record number of students gaining qualifications.
He added: "Students who qualified in 2007-8 were the first to leave higher education since the recession begun.
"It is therefore disappointing but not surprising that there has been some impact on their job prospects.
"However, we welcome that fact that almost four-fifths of those who found employment were in graduate-level jobs."
Case study: 'I am disheartened, disillusioned and very skint'
JO DOUGLAS graduated with a BA (Hons) in Cultural Studies in 2008 from Napier University, in Edinburgh.
I UNDERSTOOD that my course was very respected in the advertising industry, and acted as a "foot in the door" when it came to securing my all-important first job.
Very quickly it became obvious to me that glamorous jobs in advertising were becoming rarer.
I began job hunting straightaway, but what I had feared a few months prior to this was now a reality – there simply were no jobs to be had.
The typical scenario I came across was that there were so many candidates applying for a particular role, that the employer could raise the bar and really ask a lot from potential employees.
As a lowly recent graduate with very little real experience in the industry I was not even considered for interviews.
Friends who worked in the industry told me that, had this been a couple of years ago, my determination, drive and relevant qualifications would have meant I would have had no problems getting interviews and securing the right job.
In short, the recession really stopped me in my tracks. I began to feel that all the years I had spent studying were for nothing, because I was looking at menial jobs to pay the bills.
I am disheartened, depressed, disillusioned and very skint.