According to information released recently by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), 10 per cent of those who graduated from Irish higher education institutions with an honours degree in 2008 were unemployed six months later. The figure for those graduating with a postgraduate degree in 2008 (including PhDs) was even higher, at 12 per cent. Both figures showed a very considerable worsening of graduate unemployment: a year earlier the percentages had been 3 and 5, respectively.
The HEA document described this as being one of the ‘full effects of the recession’, and this may well explain the increase. However, this trend will need to be watched over the next year or so; data relating to 2009 graduates should by now be available for comparison purposes. If the trend continues, it provides us with an additional reason for looking again at higher education participation targets, and at the capacity of the labour market to absorb the planned increases. There must necessarily always be some graduate unemployment, but rates of 10 per cent should raise some questions. As I have noted before, it may make more sense to increase higher education participation in a targeted way amongst socio-economically disadvantaged groups than to raise the overall participation rate.