GRADUATE STARTING salaries have failed to keep up with inflation over the last two years, research for NCE's schools magazine NCE insite has revealed.
Graduates this year can expect to earn starting salaries of £19,467, up from £18,774.
But if pay had kept up with the average inflation rate of 3.2%, the figure would be £19,995.
The finding emerged from a survey of 63 British universities and colleges by NCE insite and is published this week in the summer term issue, distributed free to 19,000 15 to 18 year olds across the country.
The result is surprising as many construction companies still complain of skills shortages.
Expected surges in workload from major projects like Crossrail and the £50bn nuclear decommissioning programme are expected to stretch industry resources to their limit.
The Insite survey shows that starting salaries range from £14,000 to £26,000, with the English universities offering graduates the best chance to earn the most.
Graduates of English institutions earn average starting salaries of £20,300. Those from Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish universities claim just £18,000.
But English graduates will lose this salary advantage when they pay the maximum £3,000 top up fee, from 2006. Universities in Scotland and Wales are exempt from top up fees.
Despite falling graduate earning power, student numbers have increased. This year more than 5,500 students enrolled on civil engineering or related courses, up more than 10% on last year.
Applications for 2005/06 are also up 10%. There is also good news for students seeking to ease their debts. The survey shows that 39% of students receive some form of industry sponsorship or scholarship, worth on average £1,200 a year.
Increasing numbers of universities are forging formal links with other universities, according to the survey. Birmingham, Bristol, Glamorgan and Surrey all have formalised schemes.
Insite asked universities to name consultants and contractors with which they had links.
Balfour Beatty was the most quoted contractor and Jacobs Babtie top quoted consultant.
Universities of Abertay, Cambridge, City University London, Coventry, Edinburgh, Kingston, Leeds, Nottingham, Nottingham Trent, Salford, Sheffi d, Southampton and University College London also had links with specific firms.
The survey shows that around 37% of students claim construction-related summer work experience with 26% taking a sandwich year to gain industry experience and ease debts.