Government graduate scheme sees hefty drop in applicants

Fast Stream digital, data and technology segment has fared better than all other specialist tracks – but has still witnessed a 45% decline in the number of applications in two years

Applications to the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate programme have fallen dramatically for the second year in a row, with the 2023 scheme receiving less than half the number of applicants as in 2021.

The scheme’s digital, data and technology track fared better than any other specialist segment – but has still seen a 45% drop in applications by first preference.

According to an exclusive report from PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, overall interest in the programme scheme for future government leaders has now dropped three years in a row, having reached a high of 64,697 applicants in 2020. A small drop in 2021 – to 59,603 – was followed by a significant decrease in 2022 – to 38,950. In 2023, the numbers applying has markedly fallen again – to 26,899. 

The application process for the 2023 cohort was impacted by the Boris Johnson-led government’s decision to pause the scheme in as part of plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs, which Rishi Sunak reversed when he became prime minister in October 2022.

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The collapse in applications in recent years has meant it is has become easier for candidates to be successful, with the Fast Stream success rate at its highest in eight years.

Around 4% of applicants for the 2023 cohort were recommended for appointment, up from 2.8% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2021. You have to go back to 2015 to find a higher success rate: 4.6%.

Despite the fall in interest, the Civil Service Fast Stream remains ranked as the second best grade scheme in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers rankings.

All schemes have received a drop in applications of at least 45% in the last three years. The science and engineering pathway experienced the biggest drop in interest, with applications by first preference plummeting by 78% from 3,119 to 674 between 2020 and 2023.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said:  “The Fast Stream is a world-leading graduate programme that offers significant opportunities to develop personal and professional skills. The Covid pandemic had a wider impact on recruitment drives into the workforce in the broader public and private sector across the UK. We consider a range of metrics when assessing intakes. We have always sought to improve the scheme’s efficiency and candidate experience, in order to continue to attract high-quality and motivated graduates.”

Click here to read the full story on CSW, including a complete breakdown of data and lots of expert reaction

Tevye Markson

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