The current graduate marketplace
How much job opportunity is there for graduates? Which degrees lead to the highest salaries, and are average graduate starting salaries going up or down?
Universities run an annual survey called the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Survey (DLHE) survey to find out how new graduates are faring after leaving university. This data gives us an insight into the broad themes in graduate employment, which we've distilled here.
For a more detailed breakdown of the most in-demand subjects, take a look at our article on which degrees are in demand.
What is the current picture like for recent graduates?The early unemployment rate for 2014 graduates was 6.3%; the lowest since before the recession began in 2009. A graduate unemployment rate (after six months) below about 6.5% usually signals that the jobs market for graduates is favourable and stable. So, the economic environment for university leavers appears to have recovered from the long downturn that began nearly a decade ago.
What are graduates doing after six months?In 2014, 353,725 first degrees were awarded to UK domiciled graduates:
- The majority – 76.7% - of first degree graduates were in work after six months, mainly in full-time employment alone, but with some working part time and some combining work with study (usually for professional qualifications, such as law or accountancy exams).
- Just over 12% were solely in further study, mainly on one-year courses, taking Masters or training to be teachers.
- Of these, about one in eight went on to longer doctoral study, usually taking three to four years to qualify for their PhDs.
Are salaries going up or down?The recovery from recession has been slow and shallow for graduates and nowhere has that been more visible than in salaries. Pay growth has been very weak over the last few years for all workers, and salaries for new graduates have been no exception.
- The average starting salary for a first degree graduate from 2013/14 who was working full time was £20,637.
- Six years ago, this figure wasn’t much different. The average graduate starting salary for those who left university in 2007/8 (just before the recession) was £19,724.
- However, there is a significant variation between subjects. On the top end of the scale, materials science, dentistry and medicine graduates all start on salaries well over £28,000.
- On the lower end of the scale, average starting salary for graduates in dance was below £15,000.
- Location also makes a difference. Graduates in London enjoyed an average starting salary of £23,095, compared to those in the North East, who average £19,683 on graduation.
What are the most common jobs for graduates?The majority of graduates who went into employment went into jobs at professional or managerial level. Jobs in health (14.6%), business and finance (9.8%) and marketing and PR (7.5%) were the most common.
Business, finance and marketing jobs represent a hugely important part of the graduate employment market – they offer a very diverse range of roles that are theoretically open to graduates from any discipline.
Jobs classified as ‘marketing’ are a particularly fast-growing and changing part of the market, also with a wide-ranging number of roles. These range from wholly online, highly specialist computing jobs to lobbying and advocacy jobs and data-driven work in market research and Big Data analytics to traditional advertising and design jobs.
And that's not to discount jobs in engineering and computing, an important part of the employment market, accounting for 8.6% of 2013/14 graduates together, and one where employers report that they have significant difficulties filling roles because there are not enough engineers, surveyors and programmers to meet demand.
Which degrees are most likely to guarantee a job?The degrees with the lowest rates of unemployment are - as always - medicine, dentistry and nursing, where there are often significant staff shortages. Students also have the reassurance that the number of university places available is designed to be linked directly to workforce needs.
Other subjects with low unemployment rates include pharmacy, operational research, medical technology, undergraduate teacher training, building, sports science and planning. Many of these subjects are also linked to parts of the jobs market where employers are currently experiencing difficulty in recruiting enough graduates. The graduate roles currently reported as being hardest to fill include surveying; mechanical engineering; nursing; software development; accountancy technicians; civil engineering; and design and development engineering.
If you have capable students looking to enter these areas, they should find opportunities available for them.
How will students on more general degrees fare?Much of the jobs market for graduates is open to graduates from any discipline. Although some of the most in-demand and best-paid roles need a specialist degree, many of the more generalist jobs have excellent pay and progression opportunities.
Economic conditions may change between making a degree choice and graduation, but most degrees are flexible enough to adapt to a changing employment environment. Even in the most difficult economies, most graduates find work quickly, and most of that work is good quality and well-rewarded.
Thankfully, that is unlikely to change in the near future.
- Find out which degrees are in demand?
- Read about the top universities for graduate starting salaries
- Here are the top 10 degree subjects for graduate starting salaries