Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 16:55 UK

What is in store for NI's class of 2010?

By Emily Thomas
BBC News

Graduate receiving scroll
Student debt has risen sharply in the past 5 years

Student debt, unemployment and living with mum - is this what the class of 2010 has to look forward to?

Students all over Northern Ireland will be breathing sighs of relief over the coming weeks as the exam season draws to a close.

But with student debt spiralling rapidly and levels of unemployment high, many new graduates face an uncertain future.

Pay off?

The class of 2010 will be the second group of graduates to finish with additional debt brought on by the introduction of top-up fees.

Students from NI's universities can now expect to graduate owing an average of £13,299, according to the Push Student Debt Survey.

Students have never faced more debt and less opportunity when it comes to the job market

Ciarnan Helferty, President of the National Union of Students - Union of Students in Ireland

Although this figure is lower than the UK average of £15,812, debt levels have risen sharply in NI in recent years.

Ciarnan Helferty, President of the National Union of Students - Union of Students in Ireland (NUS-USI), says that with increasing graduate unemployment this is becoming "ever more problematic".

"In as little as five years we have seen the numbers of students graduating with debt approaching £30,000, rise by nearly 30%.

"Students have never faced more debt and less opportunity when it comes to the job market."

Whilst UK graduates can expect to earn more than non-graduates, the average salary paid to NI graduates is the lowest of anywhere in the UK.

Graduate prospects in figures:
In NI 44% of men and 19% of women aged 25-29 live with a parent.
UK graduates can expect to earn on average 157% more than non-graduates, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The median salary for NI's graduates is £23,000, £2,000 less than the average UK graduate salary, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters Winter 2010 survey.
74% of full-time undergraduates from NI gaining qualifications at UK Higher Education institutions in 2008, and 86% of postgraduates were in employment 6 months after graduation, compared to rates of 71% and 85% for the UK overall, according to HESA.
In 2009 graduate vacancies fell by 8.9%, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters Winter 2010 survey.
Employers are predicting graduate vacancies to decrease by 1.6% in 2010, according to the same survey.

Free Labour

Only a third of students are expecting to find a graduate job after finishing university, with confidence in the market at a 15-year low, according to the UK Graduate Careers Survey 2010.

Maria Curran, senior career development advisor at the University of Ulster has noticed that rather than hurrying to fill out applications now, students are focussing on their studies.

Given the climate, she says, this could be a "smart move".

NUS-USI president Mr Helferty says there's an increase in new graduates working in unpaid work placements and internships, just to get a foot in the door.

But last year it was reported that there were very few student placements available, with some businesses no longer able to take on students because of the economic downturn.

Unemployment and debt are likely to leave new graduates unable to pay rent or a mortgage.

And in Northern Ireland young adults are more likely to be living with their parents in their 20s than young people in almost any other part of the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Green shoots?

However NI's two biggest universities are optimistic that the effects of the recession on graduate employment are slowing.

A spokesperson from Queen's University says there are "encouraging signs" that companies will continue to recruit graduates in 2010, and Ms Curran from the University of Ulster says there are some indicators of improvement on last year.

Students on graduation day
The effects of the recession on graduate employment are thought to be slowing

The situation is sector specific, she says, with plenty of vacancies in engineering and IT but still far fewer in construction than there would have been three years ago.

In February, a survey by the Association of Graduate Recruiters indicated that graduate vacancies will fall less in 2010 than they have in the previous two years.

But NUS-USI President Mr Helferty warns the situation remains "uncertain".

"Green shoots will be little consolation to the thousands of graduates who studied hard, have accumulated significant amounts of debt only to discover that there is simply no job available," he says.

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