The proportion of graduates securing full-time jobs just over a year after leaving university has fallen, official figures show.
Of young people leaving university in 2018/19, just over half (56%) of UK-domiciled graduates were in full-time employment around 15 months after finishing their courses, compared with 59% of the 2017/18 cohort.
The majority of respondents to the Graduate Outcomes survey, conducted by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for the second year in a row, graduated in 2019 and were surveyed after the pandemic was declared.
The most obvious effects of the pandemic on the cohort was an increase in unemployment and a 50% drop in the proportion of graduates who took time out to travel – from 1.4% to 0.7%, according to the HESA analysis.
Figures also show that black graduates are now even more likely to be unemployed more than a year after leaving university than their white peers.
Data shows that, of those who left university in 2018/19, 7% of UK-domiciled black graduates were unemployed, compared with just 4% of white graduates.
There was a greater increase in the proportion of black graduates reporting to be unemployed than the proportion of unemployed white graduates between 2017/18 and 2018/19, according to the survey.
In 2017/18, 5% of black graduates were unemployed 15 months after leaving university, compared with just 3% of white graduates.
It comes as universities are under increasing pressure to improve the outcomes of students from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
The latest statistics also show that UK-domiciled male graduates (6%) are more likely to be unemployed than female graduates (5%) – and yet males are more likely to be paid more than their female peers.
Of the graduates working full-time in the UK just 15 months after leaving university, less than half (48%) of males were earning salaries below £27,000, compared with more than three in five (61%) females, the figures suggest.
Overall, the survey – which looked at data of 380,970 graduates – found that 88% of graduates were in some form of work or further study – down from 90% in the survey of 2017/18 graduates.
The remaining 12% were unemployed – or were doing another activity such as travelling, caring for someone, or they were retired.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), said he was “struck by some of the equality challenges in the data”.
He said: “Now that universities are measured for the outcomes of their graduates, they need to tackle differential outcomes if they do not want the regulator breathing down their necks.”
Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students (OfS), said: “Graduates are likely to face challenges in the labour market as the recovery continues – it is critical that higher education equips graduates with the skills and knowledge they need to progress and thrive in the workplace.”
He added: “We also know that there are disparities in outcomes between student groups throughout and beyond higher education. For black students, this crucially relates to the proportion achieving the highest degree grades, which then influences their subsequent employment prospects.
“Universities and colleges have committed to address these gaps through the access and participation plans they agree with OfS.
“It is vital that universities deliver on these commitments so that all students have the opportunity to progress onto enriching careers.”
A HESA spokesperson said: “This year’s survey clearly shows some of the impact of the Covid pandemic on the early careers of graduates.
“Data both on the activities and the subjective feelings of graduates this year will be invaluable for policymakers working to restore the economy and researchers trying to understand the impacts of the last remarkable 18 months.”
A Universities UK spokeswoman said: “Universities recognise that the pandemic has been exceptionally challenging for students and graduates facing an uncertain jobs market.
“Universities are to here to help recent graduates as well as current students and we encourage them to get in touch with their university careers services so they can access the full range of support available.
“Universities are also redoubling their efforts to work in partnership with employers to ensure all students are able to reach their full potential beyond graduation.
“Universities know that there is more work to do to support all their students to thrive and many have set out ambitious targets to eliminate the degree awarding gaps as well as other gaps in degree outcomes.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The vast majority of graduates – 88% – are already in employment or further education, and we have further invested an additional £32 million in the National Careers Service, delivering careers advice for over 500,000 people. We have also launched our Graduate Employment and Skills Guide to help all graduates affected by the pandemic consider their post-university choices and gain professional experience.
“We remain committed to driving up standards in higher education, and welcome the Office for Students’ recent consultation on this.”