Despite the harsh economic climate, the numbers of Oxford graduates facing unemployment remains unchanged, though Oxford’s post-graduate leavers are struggling to find paid work.

These findings will be announced in the annual Destinations of Leavers report (DLHE), which is due to be released later this term. According to the report “Undergraduates bucked the national trends with fewer unemployed, fewer going to further study, and more employed”.

The report will demonstrate that levels of unemployment among graduates from the class of 2009 remains unchanged when compared with the previous year. This is despite recent graduates being amongst those worse hit by unemployment levels, which are now at their worst state for 15 years, with 2.51 million graduates out of work. Across the country, young graduates in particular are suffering as employers have chosen to reduce their workforces by halting recruitment.

Yet the DLHE indicates that 5% of the class of 2008 are unemployed, a slight reduction upon the previous year, when 6.1% of graduates had either not continued with studies or had been unable to find paid employment. The data also reveals that 45% of students continued to take further study, which compares to 48% the previous year.
Most surprising is the slight rise in the number of leavers securing paid work – up from 42% to 44%.

Director of the Careers Service, Jonathan Black, commented on the statistics: “Oxford graduates, along with students from Cambridge and LSE, are somewhat insulated against the recession. They’re always at the top of the list for corporate employers.”

The comparisons made by the report do not, however, account for the fact that the effects of the recession were also being felt in 2008. The number of graduates from the class of 2008 who had failed to secure work and were not engaged in study had already increased by 63% when compared with the previous year.

Mr Black conceded that students can no longer afford to be as picky as in previous years: “You can’t be quite as fixed – Oxford graduates don’t have the luxury they used to. But things are picking up and the numbers of employers approaching is the same as usual.”

The Director of the Careers Service encouraged students to adopt a flexible approach, and to look upon future employment “as part of a progressive career path, not just a job”.

He did, however, criticise the increased emphasis which is now being placed on graduate internships arguing, “Internships are for undergraduates. Once you have graduated it is time for a job, simple as that”. Earlier this year Mr Black publicly spoke out against a government scheme which proposed funding for thousands more graduate internships.

However, the experiences of recent graduates suggest that an Oxbridge degree is no longer the golden ticket it once was. Alex Parker, a former music student who graduated in 2009 managed to get a job offer after a tiresome eight months and a total 108 applications.

He said, “I don’t honestly think that my Oxford degree put me at a distinct advantage when it came to most of the jobs I applied to. I believe this was due to the recession levelling the playing field. People who had done more vocational type degrees that had some sort of practical experience that was relevant to the job tended to be much more favoured by employers, although they all admitted that Oxford students were better educated.

“My main difficulty was to demonstrate why I had studied the degree I studied (music) and then transferred to a job area that bore no relevance to my degree (accountancy). It’s very easy for students to become complacent. Once Oxford students think they have a significant advantage because of their academic pedigree, their chances of getting a job they want dramatically diminishes unless they can prove that they have got their hands dirty.”

Another Oxford graduate agreed “I think that it is harder to get some of the desirable jobs that most Oxford students want as there are fewer around in a recession, but it’s also very hard to get very crap jobs (again, fewer) so in many respects Oxford students have it much harder in a recession. The most common feedback I had from jobs was that I was ‘over-qualified and under experience.'”

Those hoping to continue studying have also felt the effects of the financial climate as the competitive job market has provoked a marked rise in the popularity of post-graduate courses. Francis Wynne, a former Classics student and one of the 25% of Oxford graduates pursuing a career in education, is currently studying for a PGCE at Kings College London. He was more satisfied that his Oxford qualification stood him in good stead.

He said, “I think the Oxford degree did help me to secure a place on the Kings PGCE, not because of any ‘prestige’ value that comes with it, but definitely insofar as the rigours of the Oxford course ensured my subject knowledge was strong. In a year when institutions can afford to be especially discerning in their intake it did serve a practical purpose.”

The recent surge in the volume of applications made to post-graduate courses has been felt at Oxford where the number of applicants rose from 13,551 last year to 17,510 for this academic year. The figures indicate that for the first time, the number of post-graduate applications received has outweighed the total number of students applying to the University’s undergraduate courses.

The University’s DLHE report suggests that post-graduate leavers do, however, still face hard times. A comparison of those post-graduates who finished in 2009 with those who left the previous year indicates that higher numbers remain either unemployed or opt for further study, while fewer have secured paid employment.
The Oxford’s Careers Service now aims to increase its ‘marketing effort’ in order to stimulate student engagement. Data tracking the usage of the Service shows huge discrepancy in the types of students visiting the service, which is less than half as popular with post-graduates as it is with undergraduates.