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National Survey Finds Little Evidence of Over-Supply of Graduates

Originally published 15 June 2004

New research from the University of Warwick reveals that there is little evidence of over-supply of graduates or of their widespread failure to get appropriate jobs, according to a major survey which has tracked the progress of thousands who graduated in 1995.

The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), was undertaken by Professor Peter Elias in the Institute of Employment Research (IER) at the University of Warwick, and involved more than 4,500 graduates from 38 UK higher education institutions.

The study covers the full spectrum – from the most elite universities to higher education colleges that have only recently begun to award degrees. There are comprehensive and detailed work histories from graduation in 1995 right up to 2003, based on answers to two surveys and in-depth follow-up interviews.

Well over three quarters of the graduates were found to be in employment or self-employment related to their long-term career plans, and two thirds said that a degree had been required for their current jobs.

Professor Peter Elias said: “This is a major and definitive study of graduate employment. Most previous evidence produced on this subject tends to be based on particular types of employers, is limited to impressions of accounts given by graduates from a small range of universities, or focuses only on the first jobs they get.”

"Our findings indicate that initial graduate under-employment is not a reliable indicator of the longer-term labour market situation. All the evidence suggests that employers continue to pay a premium to degree-holders.”

Survey respondents were asked how appropriate their job was for someone with their qualifications, using a scale of one to seven, where one meant ‘completely inappropriate’ and seven ‘ideal’. The responses indicated that 70 per cent scored their current jobs five or more, and fewer than ten per cent scored them below three.

On a similar scale, where one meant ‘not satisfied at all with present job’ and seven meant ‘completely satisfied with present job’, nearly three quarters scored five or above and only five per cent scored less than three.

Overall, 85 per cent said that they were very or reasonably satisfied with the way their career had developed.

Jobs that graduates held during the seven-and-a-half years after gaining their first degrees were analysed in considerable detail. A group of occupations were classified as ‘non-graduate jobs’ – those for which a degree is unlikely to be required, and which offer little scope for using graduate-level skills and knowledge.

The study found that immediately after graduation in July, 1995, 43 per cent of those in work were in non-graduate jobs, whereas by December, 2002, this had fallen to just 11 per cent. Researchers compared the progress out of non-graduate jobs with a group who graduated three years earlier, and found their career paths were virtually identical.

The rate of growth of earnings in the six to seven years after graduation was found to be higher for the 1995 group than it had been for graduates from 1980. And an analysis of data from 1999 graduates showed that they had achieved higher real earnings than those from 1995, just three and a half years on.


Professor Peter Elias
Tel:024 7652 3286
Mobile: 07957 469037,

Jenny Murray,
Press Officer,
University of Warwick,
Tel: 02746 574 255,
Mobile: 07876 21 7740

The research was carried out by the University of Warwick and Professor Kate Purcell at the University of the West of England