A growing sense of gloom is enveloping Britain's gradates as new survey reveals that only a third expect to land a graduate-level job when they leave university compared to half in 1998.
According to the latest UK Graduate Careers Survey, a mere one in five (21 per cent) of graduates expect to walk straight into a full-time graduate-level job while a further 15 per cent expect to be looking for such a role.
The survey quizzed more than 16,000 final-year students at Britain's top universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, University College, Durham and Edinburgh.
The low level of confidence students have about their job prospects is highlighted by the fact that more than eight out of 10 think that there are not enough graduate jobs to go round.
Only 17 per cent felt that there were plenty of graduate jobs on offer.
But as the report points out, this graduate gloom is not misplaced. While the student population has grown by more than 65 per cent over the past decade, the number of graduate jobs has increased by less than 10 per cent.
"These findings will be a huge disappointment to the Government," said Martin Birchall, director of High Fliers Research, which carried out the survey.
"The Government's introduction of top-up tuition fees and the much-publicised aim of growing the number of school leavers who go on to university both rely on there being a good supply of well-paid graduate jobs so that students can repay the substantial costs of their studies after graduation - something that the class of 2005 evidently has little confidence in."
Another sign of the times is that record numbers of graduates are applying to join the ranks of the police force - a rise of 57 per cent - while the number of applications for public sector jobs has also soared.
The most popular graduate career destinations were investment banking, teaching and the media, while accountancy and computing and finance were all on the decline.
The average salary graduates expect to earn is £19,800 (although Oxbridge graduates expect to earn £23,000), while an ambitious three per cent expected to have earned enough to retire within a decade of starting work.
A quarter of students who did not expect to get a graduate job were planning to embark on a course of postgraduate study, the survey found, while 17 per cent planned to take time off to go travelling.
But Martin Birchall warned students not to view a postgraduate qualification as a to a better job.
"Fewer than one in 20 employers currently give preference to graduates with higher degrees unless they have studied a masters or PhD that is directly relevant to the job they are applying for," he said.