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Survey reveals students' concerns amid coronavirus crisis

May 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 has created a great deal of uncertainty for students and graduates whose study and career plans have been knocked off course - but just how big an impact has the pandemic had?

Prospects conducted a survey gauging the effects of the ongoing pandemic on students and graduates residing in the UK (n = 4,260). Here are some of the key findings.

1. Tough decisions have already been made

With many employers forced to make tough decisions as a result of the lockdown, nearly a third (30%) of respondents surveyed between 31 March and 20 April indicated that they have either lost their jobs (15%) or had their job offer cancelled or deferred (15%) because of the outbreak. Interestingly, EU-domiciled respondents (22%) were more likely than both non-EU (16%) and UK (14%) respondents to report that they had their job offer either cancelled or deferred. Meanwhile, one-fifth of those aged 25 to 34 indicated this as 15% of those aged 18-24 and 25-44 reported the same.

2. A quarter plan to defer entry for a year

Just over a quarter (26%) of respondents plan to defer entry to university until 2021 because of the outbreak while nearly a third (31%) reported that they will now look for online courses instead. Findings also revealed that nearly two-fifths (38%) of those between the ages of 25 and 34 have decided to defer entry to university compared with only a fifth (21%) of those between 18 and 24.

3. Students want information

Students are curious about how things will proceed after regular life resumes with 88% of respondents indicating that they would like information from universities on how teaching will take place if social distancing continues. Nearly four-fifths (79%) indicated that they would like to be able to access a webinar about the course they are interested in and 71% want universities to make information about virtual open days available online – one respondent expressed discomfort about the idea of having to make a decision about a course they would like to enrol on without attending an open day.

4. A sliver of optimism

A quarter of all respondents indicated that they are feeling 'somewhat positive', 'positive' or 'very positive' about their career prospects, with over half of respondents (53%) reporting that they have negative feelings regarding their careers prospects as a result of COVID-19.

Percentage of respondents expressing negative feelings about career prospects by age,Percentage of respondents expressing negative feelings about career prospects by age

An interesting trend presents itself as negative feelings appear to decline with age. Two thirds (60%) of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 expressed this compared with just over two fifths (44%) in the 45 to 54 age group, suggesting that older respondents are more confident in their ability to continue on the same trajectory they were on before the coronavirus outbreak. This may be related to the finding that older respondents were able to 'easily work from home' more often than others.

Percentage of respondents expressing negative feelings about career prospects by domicile,Percentage of respondents expressing negative feelings about career prospects by domicile

Findings also suggest that more females (56%) are feeling pessimistic about their career prospects than their male counterparts (47%). Surprisingly, UK (56%) and EU (54%) domiciled respondents were the ones most likely to express negative feelings, compared with just over two-fifths (41%) of non-EU domiciled respondents.

5. Not everyone is feeling pessimistic

Of those who indicated that they were having positive feelings about their career prospects amid the coronavirus pandemic, one in ten stated that they feel this way because they believe that there will be more job vacancies in their industries - men (12%) were slightly more likely than women (8%) to report this.

A large proportion of respondents felt that the pandemic will have no effect on their career prospects as nearly two-fifths (38%) cited this as their reasoning for feeling positive about them.

Respondents domiciled in the UK (39%) were more likely than others to report that the pandemic will have no effect on their career prospects. This was also the most popular response for EU (34%) and non-EU domiciled respondents (31%).

6. Those looking for jobs lack motivation

When asked whether the coronavirus was affecting their search for jobs and placements, a large proportion of respondents reported that they are lacking motivation with three quarters (76%) indicating this - perhaps no surprise given the impact on the labour market. However, fewer men (67%) reported this than women (79%).

7. There is real concern about the availability of jobs

When asked, respondents indicated that the biggest concern for their career prospects was the likelihood that there will be fewer job vacancies in their respective industries once things return back to normal. Similarly, respondents reported that their second most pressing concern is the possibility of there being fewer work placement/internship opportunities available.

Respondents also indicated that they were feeling anxious about the way in which they should approach virtual recruitment, with just over half (51%) of respondents expressing feelings of concern over this.

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