After the bust: the postgraduate opportunity

Good rates of employment, a boom in computer science: after weathering the storm of recession, the postgraduate sector is getting back to normal

Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 06:00

The postgraduate sector has been in a state of flux over the past number of years. A large influx of graduates hoping to defer their place in the jobs market for another year has been one issue, the cutting of the grants for postgraduates has been another, but overall, it looks as though the postgraduate sector has weathered the storm and emerged on the other side.

It’s not terribly easy to track postgraduate trends. There is no centralised applications centre that can trace what people are studying and where the demand is, but a Higher Education Authority (HEA) report into the first destinations of graduates gives us an idea of the rate at which students have been choosing further study options after they graduate.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the proportion of graduates surveyed who decided to opt for further study, spiked in 2009 at the height of the economic downturn.

That year, a full 44 per cent of graduates surveyed had opted for further study while at the same time employment levels dipped. Since then, the proportions of graduates employed in relation to those opting for further study have gradually normalised and now, the most recent figures show 37 per cent of graduates choosing further study while 52 per cent of the class of 2012 were in employment nine months after graduating.

Rates of employment for those graduating with postgraduate degrees are high: 72 per cent of those graduating with a master’s or PhD qualification were in employment, according to the HEA survey.

“There is a correlation between the qualification achieved and the amount of money earned by graduates,” says Eilis O’Brien, communications director at UCD. “Students with postgraduate degrees tend to be earning more within a shorter period of time.”

HEA statistics show that those with postgraduate qualifications have higher starting salaries in jobs than those without. Just two per cent of those who graduated with a primary degree were earning €45,000 within nine months of starting their jobs. This rose to 11 per cent of master’s graduates while 30 per cent of PhD graduates who responded were earning in excess of €45,000.


‘More focused’
“It makes sense for a lot of students to do a postgraduate degree,” says Séamus McEvoy, the head of career services in UCC. “A lot of students will do a BA or a BComm in three years and then do a master’s. They will have a level nine qualification in the time that many students are just finishing their basic degree.

“They have also had the time in college to grow up and decide what they want to do. It means that postgraduate students tend to be much more focused about what they want to do.”

University career and postgraduate services are seeing their own student trends following similar lines to those that the HEA has recorded. Certainly the axing of the student grant for postgraduate students is having an effect, although the exact extent is unclear. A lot of students are ploughing ahead regardless, according to McEvoy, as they see postgraduate study as an essential extension of their degree.

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