UK university graduates have been warned by their prospective employers that skills and contacts are far more valuable than a degree.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, which questioned 950 senior executives across the world, found that of eight factors respondents believe are important to their career prospects and progression, their most recent higher education degree ranked a low fifth.

The research also revealed that an individual's skillset was believed to have most impact by senior executives, as more than four out of ten (44%) respondents selected the option.

Trailing in second through to fourth place are career development opportunities in their organisation (13%), personal connections (11%) and the growth of the industry in which they work (11%).

In fifth place, just 8% of respondents considered their most recent higher education degree as the key lever in their career prospects and progression.

"The findings come at a time when many question the high costs of post-secondary schooling, particularly at elite universities – and their payback," the report said.

"Spiralling debt levels with few prospects for quick repayment are pushing young people to reconsider post-secondary education and perhaps instead pivot into the lower levels of professions with growing opportunities, or to attend two-year trade schools."

The research comes after the manufacturers' organisation EEF revealed that almost four out of five UK firms are struggling to find appropriate staff because of a skills shortage.

The industry body, among other things, called for a "renewed focus and prioritisation" of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.

"Timely and impartial carers advice and work experience is also crucial in encouraging young people to understand and take up the opportunities available in manufacturing and engineering," a statement from the group said.

"Manufacturers are making impressive strides to tackle the skills challenge, but they do require additional support through an educational system that provides the necessary foundations, matched by accessible, coherent support to meet their skills and training needs."