Degree of difficulty: 2:2 award not enough to get jobs

MORE than half of Scotland's students will leave university this year with little hope of getting a graduate job, recruiters warn today.

• Picture: TSPL

The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) reveals its members are faced with so many applications that they have been forced to reject anyone with less than an upper-second degree.

A new survey by the AGR published today reveals that every graduate vacancy this year is attracting an average of 69 applications, compared with 49 last year and 31 in 2008.

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Overall, there has been a 6.9 per cent drop in graduate vacancies, which comes after an 8.9 per cent fall last year.

Employers blamed a backlog of unemployed graduates from the past two years who are still seeking jobs.

Latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) showed of 30,720 graduates in Scotland in 2008-09, only 3,430 achieved a first, and 10,920 a 2:1.

That means more than half of this year's cohort, more than 16,000 graduates, are expected to leave with a 2:2, third or unclassified degree - and little chance of a job. Critics warned of growing youth unemployment if action was not taken now.

Jennifer Cadiz, depute president of NUS Scotland, said: "With the number of vacancies continuing to fall and with applications on the rise, unemployed graduates will find it harder and harder to manage the debt they will be carrying after working hard for years to attain a degree.

"While we welcome the Scottish Government's recent attempt to address graduate unemployment, we will not be able to make an economic recovery until more is done to ensure enough job opportunities exist to meet the demand of college and university graduates."

Claire Baker, Labour's higher education spokeswoman, described the report as "very concerning".

She said: "Only last week we learned that Scottish graduate employment rates have dropped. According to these figures, the average graduate starting salary for Scotland this year is among the lowest in the UK, which then risks having a significant effect on the number of graduates staying in Scotland following their studies.

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"A forgotten generation of young people risks developing under the SNP government and Lib-Con coalition if nothing is done to address this very real problem."

Today's report also showed the median graduate starting salary has failed to rise and remains at the 2008 figure of 25,000.

In total, 78 per cent of employers now insist on minimum 2:1 degree compared to 67 per cent in 2008. Carl Gilleard, AGR chief executive, said: "Today's findings suggest that the recovery is going to be slower than previously thought.

"Recruiters are under intense pressure this year, dealing with a huge number of applications from graduates for a diminishing pool of jobs.

"It is hardly surprising, then, that the number of employers asking for a 2.1 degree has shot up by 11 percentage points.

"However, while this approach does aid the sifting process, it can rule out promising candidates with the right work skills unnecessarily. We are encouraging our members to look beyond the degree classification when narrowing down the field of candidates to manageable proportions."

The AGR represents graduate recruiters and interviewed 199 of its members in the UK across 18 sectors.

University groups said a degree remained a valuable investment. A spokesman for Universities Scotland said: "There is one thing that nobody is arguing with — that is that you are still more likely to get a job with a degree than without.

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"A degree is a lifelong achievement, and this recession won't last forever and people have to think about their total career.

"Degree classifications tell employers about the achievement a student has reached academically — it still requires a lot of work and a good brain to get a third or a 2:2 and people would be foolish to rule people out on that basis alone."

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of leading UK universities, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, said: "Graduates face an extremely competitive employment market. However, a degree remains a valuable investment — graduates earn a considerable salary premium."

The Scottish Government said it had created a new graduate placement programme providing 270,000 to help secure 750 graduate work-placement opportunities across Scotland.

New HESA statistics, published last week and from 2008-9, showed graduate employment in Scotland dropped from 69 per cent to 65 per cent, although that was higher than the rest of the UK.

The figures also showed the number of graduates going on to further full-time study increased from 20 per cent to 23 per cent.

Michael Russell, the Scottish Government education secretary, dismissed the AGR report as UK-wide and said the picture was more optimistic in Scotland.

He said: "Figures published just last week showed that Scotland's new graduates are actually more likely to find work or stay in education, and earn more money, than those from any other part of the UK.

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"Scotland's graduate unemployment rate remains lower than England and lower than the rest of the UK. The Scottish Government is working hard every day to support young people as they move from college and university into work.

"We are far from complacent and fully appreciate how tough it is to get into the job market," Mr Russell said.

"Our priority is to ensure that every young person receives the best possible opportunities.

"How tragic that Labour seems to view this issue as one for point-scoring rather than practical action — especially as their mismanagement at Westminster caused the unprecedented financial mess this country is now experiencing."

Last year, an AGR survey showed that 60 per cent of graduate recruiters had reduced the number of university leavers they would be taking on.

In 2009, of 124 leading employers — from sectors such as banking, financial services, law, engineering and industry — only a third said they were still looking for any graduates.

After the banking crisis, several financial firms slashed their graduate schemes, with those still operating being besieged with applications. Despite borrowing up to 13,000 to pay for their degrees, Scottish graduates have faced a growing battle for work.

Northern Rock suspended its graduate scheme in 2007, while HBSC cut its intake by 16.2 per cent, and accountancy firm KPMG cut back recruitment by a quarter.

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It comes after record numbers of applications to universities last year forced some to reduce places this year or face hefty fines from the Scottish Funding Council which allocates cash to universities.

Graduates in Scotland can expect to owe an average of 13,000 by the end of their degree.

English students, who pay tuition fees, can expect to graduate with an average of 17,500 of debt.

High-fliers - but did they get a 2:1?


Poor at school, rebellious, loathed education. No university. "I am always willing to learn, however I do not always like to be taught."


Read natural sciences (specialised in chemistry) at Oxford. Second-class honours. Was refused an honorary degree.


MA (St Andrews) in economics and history.


Studied at Edinburgh medical school. Neglected studies because he found them dull. Preferred more relaxing pursuits.


Left school at 16. Dyslexic. "I see life like one long university education I never had - every day I'm learning something new."


Left school at 16, started selling electrical goods from a van. Holds numerous honorary degrees.


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Gifted student. Accepted by Edinburgh University at 16 to read history. First-class honours. "Education is my passion."


Scotland's richest man. Left school at 16 for an engineering apprenticeship. Later studied for a BSc in technology and business at Strathclyde.


Principal of St Andrews University. Degree in history from Trinity, Dublin. Masters from University of California. PhD from Harvard.


Old Etonian. Three A-levels at A grade. Studied PPE (philosophy, politics and economics) at Oxford: first-class honours.


Chief executive of BP. First-class geology degree from Aston. PhD from Edinburgh University, honorary doctor of science, Edinburgh.

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