A new survey has claimed that just 3% of people who graduated during the recession were unemployed three and a half years later – and the average graduate salary for those in work is £24,000. But struggling graduates have called the new figures “bollocks”.

The research – by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) – will stun many of Graduate Fog’s readers, who say you are struggling to get your careers started. Many of you say you’re stuck in unpaid internships, dead-end temp work, low-paid casual work, zero-hours contracts or claiming JSA.

But HESA insists that about 87% of the class of 2008-09 were in work three and a half years after graduating. Meanwhile, 6.7% were engaged in further study and a tiny 3.2% were unemployed. The unemployment rate after three and a half years was lower than it was for 2007 graduates (3.5%) but higher than that of 2005 graduates (2.6%). The unemployment rate in the general population is 7.8%.

The statistics agency – which says it polled more than 60,000 graduates – also claimed that the average (median) salaries for graduates in full-time work was £24,000. Men employed full-time were on an average of £25,000, while women were on £23,500.

And it seems the vast majority of those who graduated at the height of the recession are very happy with the way their career is going. More than eight out of 10 graduates (83%) are satisfied with their career and two-thirds (66%) thought their course had given value for money. Three quarters (75%) felt their course had prepared them well for their career.

There were some differences in employment rates between subject areas, with 89% of 2009’s medicine and dentistry graduates saying they were in a job, compared with 72% of history or philosophy graduates. Salaries varied too. Medicine and dentistry graduates had an average income of £30,000, and those who studied art or design averaged £15,000. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the vice-chancellors group Universities UK, said:

“These are encouraging figures and highlight the signs of recovery in the graduate jobs market after the recession. Graduates from UK universities are in demand from employers, both here and overseas, and are more likely to be employed and earn more than non-graduates over a working lifetime.

“Employment figures looking at what graduates are doing three and a half years after graduation are far more useful than those relating to six months after graduation. We know that the majority of those graduates who do not go straight into work six months after graduating are in full-time employment three years later. Some graduates will have postponed looking for a first job in order to undertake further study, to get work experience or for other reasons such as periods of travel.”

David Willetts, the universities minister, said:

“As these figures demonstrate once again, a degree remains an excellent investment, and one of the best routes to gaining a good job and rewarding career. Even during a recession graduates have considerably higher employment rates than those without degrees.”

But the news was met with suspicion by many young people, who questioned what sort of jobs these ’employed’ graduates are doing. Below the Guardian’s coverage of this story, one commenter – RedTsar – posted this:

“The results are utter bollocks and deep down you know it. Average full time salary for a man is £25000? Pull the other one! I have one of these so called graduate jobs and it pays half that. Of the 50 or 60 people I knew at uni, only 5 or 6 are doing high paid jobs. The rest are sat in call centres, or stacking shelves, or mopping floors.

“As for satisfaction – define it. Compared to someone with no work then I guess I am satisfied. I have a little money, but there is no hope of me ever affording to leave home with the crappy pay I am on. There is also little chance of progression because of cutbacks and older staff being rooted to their own jobs. These stats don’t tell the whole story and it would be naive to believe them.”

Another – Craig Monks – said:

“I echo the previous comments here, this article lacks critical evaluation of the term “employment”. I would like to know what % are in a job they could have got without a degree and how happy they are with their current job.”

Tom Brockley said:

“Also class of 2009 with a first class honours BA and MA (first class/distinction 2011) and working a zero hour contract at minimum wage. I completed the survey that gave these results. Can see how it could be overly optimistic due to some of the questions. Also baffled by the average salary of £25k, as even my classmates who have done better and friends, are generally on nowhere near this. Even the Londoners.”

Thatannoyingperson said:

“I just graduated with a masters in engineering from a Russell group, trying to get some internships in design. The closest I’ve got is someone saying that if I’m lucky then I can maybe work for them for free from home, but its unlikely. Yay. I would be able to find a job I really don’t want to do, but if I actually want to do a job I would love I can’t even seem to get unpaid work.”

Graduate Fog has questions too. These figures bear no relation to the stories we hear every day from the tens of thousands of you who are struggling to get your careers started. What’s going on? Is there something fishy about these numbers? Or are Graduate Fog’s readers not a typical sample of graduates? Not being great with statistics, we are struggling to get to grips with HESA’s endless tables of numbers. Can any mathematically-minded Foggers help shed any light?

Do you think it’s true that only 3% of graduates from 2009 are unemployed? Is the median graduate salary really £24,000? Is there something fishy about these numbers – or are graduates doing better than we previously thought?

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