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Employment Rates Dropped for College Graduates during Height of COVID-19

By Ciara Browne, Deputy News Editor

COVID-19 has changed and impacted employment within Ireland and has affected the Irish population as a whole, including graduates of third level education. The Higher Education Authority collects, analyses and disseminates student and graduate related data returned to the HEA from all HEA-funded institutions annually. The HEA leads the strategic development of the Irish Higher Education and research system with the objective of creating a coherent system of diverse institutions with distinct missions. 

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the implementation of essential public health measures to contain the spread of the virus, resulted in the largest monthly increase in unemployment in the history of the State, back in March 2020. By the week ending April 24th, there were more than 1.1 million people in receipt of State support interventions to the labour market. Prior to the outbreak, conditions in the Irish Labour Market were close to full employment with over 2.3 million people in employment, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.7% in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to the official government website.

Despite challenging circumstances, more than three quarters of higher education students in the class of 2020 had jobs after nine months of graduation. The figures are contained in the Higher Education Authority’s graduate outcomes survey for the class of 2020. Graduates were surveyed after nine months of graduation. Average full time earnings for younger graduates were just under €32,600. Information Communication Technology (ICT) or technology graduates were the highest paid with just over €40,500, followed by engineering (€40.845) and education (€40,300). Arts and humanities were at the lowest (just under €28,000). Overall, most of the class of 2020 were working or due to start a job (76%, down 4% on 2018 records).

Employment rates were highest among education graduates (93%) and lowest for arts and humanities (53%) graduates. The largest drop in employment was amongst undergraduates of arts and humanities, social sciences, journalism, and services including hospitality and tourism. While there was a sharp drop in employment for some sectors, unemployment rates did not rise to the same extent as many graduates went on to further study. The data also shows a strong relationship between Leaving Certificate points and earnings. Graduates who achieved more than 500 points had the higher salaries, and at the other end of the scale, graduates that received less than 255 points had the lowest earnings.

Of those in employment, almost two-thirds of graduates are on permanent or open-ended contracts, which is a slight increase to the records shown for 2018. These contracts are most common in ICT and least common amongst education graduates. There has also been an increase in the proportion of students pursuing further study nine months after graduation (14%, up 1% from 2018). The proportion of students pursuing further study was highest again for arts and humanities graduates and lowest for education graduates. In Ireland, the most common programme type is undergraduate honours degree (53%), followed by taught masters (23%).

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris TD, said that information revealed in the study by the Higher Education Authority’s graduate outcomes survey provides new insights about the impact of COVID-19 on student employment and further study rates in Ireland, during a period of unprecedented change in key parts of the economy. Higher Education Authority Chief Executive, Dr Alan Wall, stated that the dataset will help institutions and other stakeholders in “providing students with appropriate career advice and relevant information on their course choices.”