Page last updated at 14:09 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

'Credit crunch' aid for graduates

Durham University
This year could be the worst in which to graduate for two decades

Graduates from a leading UK university are being offered 2,000 to stay on and do research rather than try to find their first job during the recession.

Durham University said its 102 taught Masters scholarships would "give students a real chance to upskill".

A recent survey suggested graduate recruiters were cutting targets, with a reduction of 47% in investment banking.

It is likely to mean more intense competition among graduates this year for fewer available jobs.

More students could be applying for post-graduate courses as a result.

The graduate job market had been buoyant in recent years, but the High Fliers Research survey of 100 graduate firms found targets had been cut by an average of 17% this year.

But the situation is much more serious in the financial sector, it found.

Durham 'family'

Durham's pro-vice-chancellor for learning and teaching, Professor Anthony Forster, said: "There's no panic but people are anxious about their prospects.

"We have some of the most employable graduates in the country, but this scholarship will give them a real chance to upgrade their skills and be in a better position to gain employment once they leave," he said.

"From the university's perspective, we'd like to help the Durham family of students.

"It's also about keeping the brightest and best at Durham and in the North East, but we want our graduates to go on and get the best jobs wherever they are."

Prof Forster said the scholarship was open to any graduate, and not necessarily targeted at those who may have sought employment in the financial sector.

The university will award 102 scholarships of 2,000 for almost any of its taught Masters courses, which it says it will pay from its own surpluses.

"The university is on a sound financial footing," Prof Forster added.

'Milk round'

Tuition fees for taught post-graduate courses at the University of Durham and at most universities vary according to the subject.

At Durham, the fees start from 4,200 per year for many arts and humanities subjects, to 7,500 per annum for management degrees. The exception is an MBA, which costs 19,000.

Prof Forster said he thought the scholarship would be enough to persuade the students to stay on, saying it would "offer a real contribution to their living costs".

The scholarship is envisaged as a one-year scheme to help this year's graduates ride out the recession, but the possibility for it to be extended has been left open, should the economic climate not improve.

Some universities have reported that firms have been cancelling spots on the annual "milk round" - when prestigious employers visit universities to recruit students - or had visited only a small number of elite institutions.

England's Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said it was "talking to employers to make sure graduates get real experience of work".

The Universities Secretary John Denham recently announced plans to help graduates make the transition into the job market, including starting up three-month internships with modest salaries.

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