In 1997 the average salary offered to new graduates, excluding London allowances, was pound;15,500, more than 6 per cent higher than in 1996. It is expected to rise to pound;16,000 this year - an increase of just over 3 per cent.
But salaries for those landing the best-paid jobs are rising even faster. In the top tenth of the scale, new graduates were offered pound;19,225 in 1997 and are expected to be offered at least pound;20,000 this year, according to figures compiled by the Association of Graduate Recruiters.
Recent graduate recruits are also seeing speedy growth in earnings. Those recruited in 1994 on pound;13,500 are now averaging pound;21,000.
The AGR, which represents more than 500 companies, including BT, Coopers amp; Lybrand, Anderson Consulting, Marks amp; Spencer and ICI, says the survey shows that university education is potentially a good investment, especially if students also acquire work experience.
Nearly three-quarters of the members responding to the survey provided work experience. More than half offered pay differentials, especially to those with post-graduate qualifications and work experience, and to sponsored graduates. Graduates with doctorates were earning on average an extra pound;2,000, those with masters degrees an extra pound;920, sponsored recruits an extra pound;750 and those with relevant work experience an extra pound;290.
Some recruiters offered salary advances and interest-free loans but few offered a "golden hello".
As graduate vacancies continue to rise - up 13 per cent in 1997 - recruitment problems worsened. More than half the organisations responding to the survey were unable to fill all their vacancies last year. The most difficult areas continue to be science and engineering and information technology.