Graduate prospects under threat
Aaron Loose examines the immediate and longer term impacts of COVID-19 on graduate employment prospects.
In early 2020, final year student Bryan Knight was preparing to leave university. A talented journalist and podcaster, he had already applied to several jobs and summer internships. The pathway from graduation to employment seemed clear.
Then Covid-19 reached the United Kingdom and everything changed. “Once this pandemic took its hold in Britain, all the schemes which I had been intending on starting in the summer began emailing saying that they had decided to halt the recruitment schemes”, Bryan says. “I have heard similar stories from my friends, so this pandemic is clearly a major issue for the class of 2020.”
This year, graduates will enter the bleakest job market in almost a 100 years. On 19 May, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, called for Britain to steel itself for “severe recession, the likes of which we haven’t seen.” Indeed, the UK economy is forecast to recede by over 35 per cent during the second quarter of 2020, the biggest drop since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Predictably, the impending economic downturn has spooked graduate employers. Back in March, the Institute of Student Employers reported that companies will recruit 27 per cent less graduates in 2020 than normal. A further 31 per cent will reduce internships and placements, a decision that threatens less privileged graduates who lack personal connections into a desired industry.
The recession may leave a lifelong financial ‘scar’ on the class of 2020
Whilst it is tempting to measure the pandemic’s impacts in strictly financial terms, the burden placed onto young peoples’ mental health demands urgent consideration. Bryan acknowledges the virus “has created uncertainty, stress and, at times, a sense of hopelessness.” Although there is currently no rigorous research into how Covid-19 is damaging graduate wellbeing, a YouGov poll of 5,000 students discovered 83 per cent felt uncertain about their futures because of the pandemic.
Although it is believed that a person’s success is connected to their own individual effort, good timing often decides how a graduate’s professional life pans out. Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, collated several studies to suggest the recession may leave a lifelong financial ‘scar’ on the class of 2020.
For instance, the Economic and Social Research Council found the class of ‘81 felt the recession’s aftershocks for decades, whereas recent studies on the 2008 financial crash identified a “crisis cohort” who continue to struggle with unemployment, lower pay and reduced job prospects to this day.
One of Hillman’s predictions is that graduates will decide to apply for postgraduate study rather than look for a job in a depressed economy. Speaking to The Guardian, he posited “You can get government-backed loans for postgraduate study, and unis will be falling over themselves to recruit home students as international numbers will be down significantly.”
However, Luke Masters, a final year student, strongly disagrees. He argues “where would I find the money for living costs during that? The university in my parents’ town or none nearby have anything that would add to the knowledge or skills I’ve already gained.”
He added “If we’re facing a recession, what sense is there adding another £15K debt to myself?”
In the UK, a postgraduate student can claim up to £11,222 from the government. The money covers the basic course fees but does not account for the actual cost of student living.
Prospects are bleak. Nevertheless, Bryan is confident. He reflects “I certainly believe people should prioritise their mental and physical wellbeing, but we should learn to surrender the plans we had and embrace the change.”
“The question shouldn’t be IF we will overcome the recession, but rather WHEN.”