A report commissioned by the Association of Accounting Technicians predicts that 42% of this summer's university graduates will fall into the underemployment trap, finding work in low-skill jobs where no degree is needed six months after graduating - a figure that has increased by 10 percentage points in the past five years.
And these university leavers are arguably the lucky ones. The report shows that, since the start of the recession in 2008, the unemployment rate among new graduates has doubled to over 20%, with 59,000 of them out of work. Raising the question of whether a university degree is worth the investment, an estimated 55% of this year's university leavers will graduate into either unemployment or unskilled roles. And those considering their options this year need to do their maths.
While university graduates are struggling to find meaningful work, their vocational counterparts who don't have spiralling course costs are faring better.
The report found that those with a level 3 qualification, equivalent to A-Level, are less likely to be unemployed and those with level 4 have an equal chance of unemployment. The report, prepared by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, makes particularly worrying reading for graduates of law, historical and philosophical studies and languages with these subjects faring worst.
Over 50% of employed graduates in these subject areas were underemployed six months after graduating, contrasting sharply with those in medicine and education where fewer than 25% of graduates were in non-graduate jobs.
Jane Scott Paul, chief executive at the Association of Accounting Technicians, who commissioned the study, said: "If we are asking people to invest £9,000-a-year on tuition fees, they should expect a credible return on that investment, yet AAT research shows that over half of graduates are nowhere near benefiting from their degree and the situation is set to get worse. For too long vocational qualifications have been seen as the poor relation, with poorer employment prospects, when the truth is that high quality vocational courses open doors and create employment."
The report suggests that there is a clear demand for high-quality vocational education, which will need to be met if young people in the UK are to be well-placed for the job market of the future. The report goes on to call on the Government to better audit the quality and returns from university courses and calls for greater investment in vocational qualifications.
Scott Paul added: "For too long, people have been sold the line that a university degree will lead to a good job and that graduating is the only way to get to the top of your chosen profession. High-quality vocational qualifications are a proven, alternative route to white-collar employment such as accountancy, and more students should be encouraged to pursue this option."