Headlines: October 27th, 2005

Students from low-income families are more likely to take jobs that do not require a degree because of the financial pressures they face when they leave university, according to a report today. The research by the University of Glasgow finds that students from less well off backgrounds pay more for higher education because they incur heavier debts and receive less help with repayments after they graduate.Today’s report, produced for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is the last in a series charting the progress through higher education of young people from disadvantaged areas of western Scotland. The researchers found that students without significant financial support from families often felt compelled to take the first job that came along. That in turn made it harder for them to begin graduate careers or to gain the skills that would help them move to better paid jobs where they would be more able to pay off their debts.

The study is based on a survey of more than 250 young people and it shows that their progress from college and university into the labour market has been slow. A year after graduation just over four in ten had begun work in a graduate-status job and only one in five was employed in what was regarded as a relatively secure graduate position.

Other findings show that students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds faced the greatest difficulties in the labour market, especially women graduates. Although relatively few students blamed their difficulties on class or gender, a substantial minority thought they were being held back by their accent or the area in which they lived. The research team says, too, that graduates from low-income backgrounds are less likely to have developed clear plans for their future, gained in confidence or extended their social networks in ways that could help them find degree-level employment.

In spite of the difficulties the students have faced, the researchers emphasise that many of those in the study have made impressive progress since they were first interviewed at the end of their time at school five years earlier. Professor Andy Furlong, co-author of the study, said the routes less advantaged students had taken through higher education were complex and involved failures, breaks and new starts.

“Debt was their constant companion and they often supported themselves through college by working long hours away from their studies. In addition, their relations with more affluent students were sometimes less than cordial,” he said. Fellow author of the report, Fred Cartmel, said the early employment experiences of graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds had been harmed by the heavier level of debts they incurred compared with other students but that did not negate the benefits of giving young people greater access to higher education.