For Britain's class of 2011, finance keeps allure
* Graduate vacancies in finance to rise 10.4 pct this year
* Finance, banking still attractive for debt-laden students
* Increasing interest in regulation, BoE and FSA jobs
By Michel Rose
LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - Investment bankers have been villified by the public since the financial crisis, and regulators are cracking down on their pay, but Britain's university graduates still aspire to become them.
At the country's top universities, the generation of students who started their degree just as Lehman Brothers collapsed are still pursuing lucrative jobs in the City of London this summer, as vacancies begin to rise.
"So how do you assess the employee's performance for the bonus?" is the first question asked in one recent career roundtable at the London School of Economics.
Hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC.N), the firm's 'speed banking' event last month drew dozens of twentysomethings in suits doing their best to catch the recruiters' attention.
If a fresh bout of banker bashing in the British media during this year's bonus season doesn't deter them, it won't be the prospect of a tough graduate programme that does.
One of Merrill's young recruits explained how "insane" the hours are. "You basically work 24/7," he told the group.
"I know about that, I see my brother experiencing that, and I'm prepared for that," said Matthew, 20, a first year economics students from Hong Kong.
The good news is that some jobs are starting to return, even as they disappear in the public sector and youth unemployment grows to a record 20 percent.
The number of graduate vacancies in banking and finance is expected to rise 10.4 percent this year from 2009-2010, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).
Other previously popular City jobs are still hard to crack, however, with vacancies at law firms set to fall 3.5 percent this year. One firm, Olswang LLP, sent shivers through universities' careers centres when it unexpectedly cancelled its 2011 graduate intake last month.
Those that are recruiting, whether at banks or other financial services firms, are certainly as visible on university campuses as they were before the crisis.
Memories of hiring freezes and mass redundancies at the height of financial crisis also appear to be fading fast, as fears of a paralised job market in banking recede.
One student, who has already found a job with Credit Suisse (CSGN.VX) after interning with the Swiss bank, said he had few worries about finding a job.
"I was sure I would get something if I worked hard enough," said 21-year-old Niccolo.
Although the number of London School of Economics students getting into finance fell to 29 percent in 2009 after a record 36 percent the year before, attendance at finance careers fairs is now getting back up to pre-crisis levels, according to Maddie Smith, a career adviser at the university.
"Put yourself in the position of some students, if they've got debts that they need to pay off, they're looking for a good starting salary to help manage those debts, which a career in banking and finance actually offers them," said Smith.
While the UK has brought in one of the toughest bonus regimes in the world, restricting cash rewards, salaries are growing and overall pay at banks last year was mainly up.
If there is one notable effect of the crisis filtering through to student's aspirations, however, it is that some previously less alluring jobs in the sector are now grabbing their attention, even if they may not pay as well.
Those with an eye on the regulatory changes sweeping the banking industry have their sights on careers on the other side of the fence -- with the supervisory bodies -- or within compliance or risk departments.
"We did see increasing interest in roles in regulation, in places like the Bank of England, the Financial Services Authority," Smith added. (Editing by Sarah White; Editing by Hans Peters)