Graduates' average starting salaries in the UK have reached £21,000, a survey of large firms suggests.
Graduates who entered the public sector earned less
The figure, from the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which questioned 223 blue chip companies, is up 3.4% from £20,300 last year.
But the public sector lagged behind, offering a lower average starting salary of £19,700.
The number of graduate vacancies increased by 15.5%, the first year-on-year rise since 2001, the AGR found.
South East strongest
This compared with falls of 3.4% and 6.5% respectively in 2003 and 2002.
London and the South East generated the highest wages and the most jobs.
Just 8% of new graduate vacancies were to be found in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which also paid the lowest salaries, AGR said.
Accountancy and law firms, together with investment banks, generated about 40% of the UK's total vacancies, with engineering companies and retailers each contributing around 8% of new posts.
London's jobs market produced just under 40% of graduate openings, compared
with the South East's 11.3%.
Investment banking continued to pay the highest starting salaries - an average of £35,000, AGR found.
'Competitive, not extravagant'
Management consultancy and law took second and third places in the pay chart, paying their entry-level graduates an average of £28,500 and £28,000
The poll showed demand for graduates should continue to rise next year, with 82% of employers saying they expected to maintain or increase recruitment.
AGR chief executive Carl Gilleard said: "Employers are providing graduates with training and development and a
remuneration package that is competitive rather than extravagant, covering the cost of living increases."
He added: "The government will be encouraged by the report, which shows that there are increased vacancy levels at a time when the expansion of higher
education is so high on the agenda."
The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education said:
"The combination of increasing graduate starting salaries and rising applications shows the student market is healthy and able to expand."