Monday, 26 January 2009

Be nice to physics graduates

Not really commented on the many press reports that have been out on graduate employment. Partly because there's no real need to rehash what they're saying, and partly because they've prompted more enquiries and that means more work!

Anyway, now we're in recession, we do get asked whether some degrees are going to be affected worse than others.

It's a good question, and not easily answered because we're not sure how industries will be faring in 6 months time.

Medicine is probably going to be ok, and there are various forms of engineering (eg civil and chemical) which are in short supply and will probably continue so.

But some surprising degrees might find things difficult in the short term. A third of physics graduates go into PhDs. But the unemployment rate for physics is already a bit higher than graduates as a whole, and of those who do work, about a fifth of 2006/7 graduates went into the finance industry. Only 7.5% of first degree physics graduates from 2006/7 went into science.

The finance industry will take a lot fewer graduates this year, and this might hit the physics graduates - so let's make sure they know what their options are.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

What do students think about the job market?

That's a big, difficult question at the moment.

We know everyone's getting a diet of gloomy media stories and that good news is thin on the ground, but what effect is it having on student confidence.

Well, we asked them.

Now, our sample size is not large, and of course anyone coming to is going to be concerned to some degree about job prospects or they wouldn't be looking at a site for job listings, and there are all kinds of methodological problems with a simple online poll. Nevertheless, this makes sobering reading.

We asked:
2009 graduates: Are you confident your degree will make you more employable in the current economic climate?

Our answers:
Yes: 126 votes, 20%
No: 397 votes, 62%
Not sure: 116 votes, 18%

There's a serious lack of confidence out there for many students. We have a lot of work to do.

Monday, 5 January 2009

If you're thinking of postgraduate study

We know that there'll be an upturn in the number of people who consider and who take postgraduate courses on finishing their first degree as the economy continues to stumble. There always is at times of economic hardship.

We like to have a look at the stats for Masters outcomes every so often as they're worth examining. Last year, 45,655 Masters degrees were awarded to UK domiciled students in the UK (58,780 if you include the overseas students).

That translates to 1 in 8 of all HE qualifications (including diplomas and certificates, and 1 in 9 of all HE qualifications awarded to UK students - so a significant proportion of the HE sector.

We did a fairly comprehensive analysis of many aspects of PG study in the UK for DIUS last year, but that only went up to 2005/6.

We now have some figures for 2006/7, taken from those good people at HESA and their Destination of Leavers of Higher Education dataset. This examines graduates soon after they've left university - six months after they graduated, and looks at how they were faring about this time last year. Of course, the economy was not quite as it is now, but it was still in much less healthy shape than it had been 12 months previously. The queues at Northern Rock were already a recent memory and there was plenty of sign that worse was to come. So what was the situation?

Firstly, there was a fairly sizeable increase in the number of UK-domiciled Masters graduates getting degrees in the UK - consistent with an increased rate of growth in the last few years. This rate of growth is going to increase.

Second, it wasn't a bad year for Masters graduates as a whole, when you consider that the most popular Masters subject by far is in business, and the job market for MBAs might reasonably be thought to be a little less healthy than it might have been 12 months ago.

Unemployment rates seemed to have gone up marginally (from 3.5% to 3.7%), but were still better than those for the previous year and far better than those for first degree graduates. The big increase seems to have been in the proportion going onto further study (usually PhDs) after completing their Masters.

This suggests that this year and next, we might not see a big increase in unemployment rates for Masters graduates (although I'll be very surprised if the rate doesn't go up). But we might see a continuing rise in Masters graduates opting to take PhDs.

That means a bit more work in the next couple of years for my colleagues who advise and support postgraduates, particularly at PhD level. They're probably aware of this, but just giving you a bit of statistical warning.

Next time, some more detail, including devils therein