05/02/2015 09:42 GMT | Updated 07/04/2015 06:59 BST

Recent Graduate Job Figures Belie a Bleaker Reality

The recent positive news from the graduate labour market belies an uncomfortable reality for a significant portion of today's graduates.

Figures published last week by High Fliers Research estimates 2015 will see the most favourable graduate job figures the UK has seen since the start of the economic crisis almost a decade ago.

Despite this, the news was checked by new data showing that one-half of all graduate loans will never be repaid. The reality is that despite an improving labour market, the UK's higher education system is in urgent need of reform and increased scrutiny.

Not all universities and degree subjects offer the same opportunities. There is increasing evidence of diminishing graduate returns, particularly for those from 'new' universities.

Over a third of all graduates (39%) have lifetime earnings below those of the average higher apprentice. While nearly half (46%) of those from post-1992 universities earn less than higher apprentices.

These differences become amplified when subject studied is examined. For some 'new' university courses, such as media studies, as many as three-quarters of graduates earn less than the average higher apprentice.

Policymakers must do more to scrutinise graduate opportunities by institution and subject type. Our blanket approach to the higher education system allows poor performing universities to hide behind their more successful counterparts. We should not allow positive labour market figures to be used as justification for policymakers to become complacent on efforts to improve our failing universities.

As many as one in five graduates are left unemployed after graduating from the UK's lowest performing universities. The Daily Telegraph recently reported on figures showing that over one-fifth (22.6%) of students were without work after leaving London South Bank University and numbers were as high as 20.6% at East London University and 18.9% at Bolton.

Unemployment rates were above 15% at 11 other institutions - Middlesex, London Metropolitan, London's University of the Arts, Goldsmiths College, Teesside, Greenwich, Buckinghamshire New, Staffordshire, Westminster, West of Scotland and Kingston.

This is in contrast with the UK's top five universities (Oxbridge, Imperial, UCL, LSE) which had on average only 4-5% of graduating students unemployed.

Policymakers must keep underperforming universities to account if we are to improve our higher education system.

With over 90% of universities in the country charging the full 9,000 GBP per year in tuition fees, it is inappropriate to leave a significant number of graduates without a job and buried in debt.

PwC recently interviewed over 1,300 chief executives in 77 countries during three months of 2014. They reported that concern about the availability of key skills in candidates has risen considerably in 2014, with 84% of UK chief executives citing it this year, up from 64% in 2013. Young people must be made aware of the reality that a graduate degree is not the panacea of opportunity it is often perceived to be. There are other alternatives out there.

In today's global race for young talent, it is crucial we continue to develop a talented pool of young workers equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to make a valuable contribution to the economy. By emphasising alternative options to university, such as apprenticeships, the UK can stay ahead in the global race.