A 21-year-old university graduate is as likely to be unemployed as a 16-year-old who leaves school with one GCSE, official Government research show.
In figures that are likely to raise questions over the value of higher education, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that almost 26 per cent of 16-year-olds who left school with “only a GCSE qualification” are unemployed. At the same time, almost 25 per cent of all 21-year-olds who left university with a degree are unemployed.
The figures are included in a breakdown by the ONS of unemployment among 16 to 24 year-olds, which at 1.04 million people is running at its highest rate since 1986. The stark snapshot was released the day after Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, described youth unemployment as a “ticking time bomb”.
The ONS’s figures show that youth unemployment has risen in each of the last three recessions and the immediate years following them. For example the ONS said that the current total of 1.04 million unemployed compares with 924,000 in the 1993 recession.
The most striking revelation in the ONS’s Characteristics of Young Unemployed People survey is the fact that the proportion of joblessness is the same among 16-year-olds with one GCSE as it is among 21-year-olds with a university education.
As well as showing that around a quarter of people in each of these groups is unemployed, the ONS found that a fifth of 18-year-olds who left full-time education with one A-level are unemployed. The figures did show, however, that people with a degree or A-levels are more likely to get a job as they get older.
The ONS found that unemployment among people with only GCSEs rises to almost 27 per cent for 18-year-olds before falling to 13 per cent among 24-year-olds. However for people with a degree, the 25 per cent unemployment rate when they are 21 falls to 5 per cent when they hit 24.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which overseas higher education, said that graduates fare better than non-graduates in the job market.
“A degree remains a good investment in the long term and is one of the best pathways to achieving a good job and rewarding career. Demand for more highly skilled employees continues to increase.
Graduates like everybody else are facing tough times, but the evidence shows they fare better than non-graduates, and their prospects tend to pick up quicker during the recovery,” the spokesman said.
Meanwhile Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said: “The statistics clearly show that a degree remains a worthwhile investment, as the unemployment rate drops significantly to just 5% for graduates aged 24. Studies have shown that over a period of years graduates do gravitate towards the job for which they believe their degree has prepared them.”