FEWER graduates are joining the civil service and fewer are staying once they are in, a study has revealed. The study found a decreasing proportion of graduates were employed in the government and education sectors, while the private sector had absorbed more manpower. Twenty per cent of 1988 graduates polled earlier this year were civil servants, another 20.9 per cent were in the education sector - including government schools - and 57 per cent in the private sector. But for 1990 graduates, only 15.3 per cent were in government jobs. The figures for the other categories were 16.2 and 66.6 per cent. The private sector was also better in keeping staff, with 85 per cent of the respondents remaining in the sector. For the civil service, the retention rate was around 80 per cent, with 12.7 per cent switching to the private sector and 5.9 per cent joining the education profession. About 30 per cent of teachers had switched. The most cited reason for changing jobs was 'more attractive terms'. The survey was the first of its kind by five tertiary institutions which traced the careers of 4,250 students who graduated in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Chairman of the steering committee Chow Chan Man-yuen said it was difficult to tell whether the falling interest in government work reflected graduates' lack of confidence in the civil service in the run-up to 1997. 'It may be a trend for young people to choose to work in the private sector which offers more flexibility and opportunities,' Mrs Chow said. This was despite the fact that graduates working as civil servants earned more, on average. For the 1988 graduates, civil servants are now earning an average $30,400 a month, compared with $24,700 in the private sector and $19,700 in education. A Civil Service Branch spokesman agreed competition between the civil service and private sector had increased with booming China trade offering more vacancies and higher salaries. But she said there would be enough candidates to fill government jobs. There were 8,200 applicants in this year's recruitment, compared with 6,800 last year. The Government aimed to recruit fewer than 200 in the exercise. She said the freeze on civil service expansion in recent years also meant there were more opportunities in the private sector. The survey, which will be submitted to the University and Polytechnic Grants Committee, found a low degree of correlation between the discipline a graduate studied and his or her career. Ten per cent of the respondents said they intended to leave Hong Kong within the next few years and another seven per cent had the right of abode overseas. Director of Education Lam Woon-kwong said: 'Hong Kong is an open city and it is very common for professionals to move in and out of the territory. 'The brain drain has already been considered in the Government's plan on manpower management. In recent years there have been a lot of returnees, together with expansion of tertiary institutes. The Government is not worried.'