An Australian report has undermined higher education’s image as the great equaliser, suggesting that patterns of social disadvantage persist beyond graduation.
According to the 2018 Graduate Outcomes Survey, released on 11 January, students from privileged postcodes are more likely to be in full-time employment four months after graduating – even though they are less likely to be looking for work in the first place.
Among undergraduates from advantaged backgrounds, 74.9 per cent reported having full-time jobs four months after completing their courses. This compared with 72.7 per cent among those from medium socio-economic status areas and 69.8 per cent for those from the least privileged quartile of the community.
Labour force participation rates – the proportion of people seeking work, as well as those in employment – followed a different pattern, with privileged graduates least likely to be pursuing employment.
Master’s and PhD graduates from affluent backgrounds also experienced more success in landing jobs than their less well-heeled counterparts. For people emerging from research postgraduate courses, the most privileged graduates were 5 per cent more likely to be in full-time work than their peers from the poorest backgrounds.
The report tallies responses from more than 120,000 graduates of 102 universities and colleges. Overall, it reveals a creeping improvement in career outcomes for Australian students, with graduates at all levels enjoying slightly higher full-time and part-time employment rates and median salaries than over the past couple of years.
Education minister Dan Tehan said that the government’s economic management had facilitated record job creation. “This means more opportunities for university graduates to get a job and kickstart their careers,” he said. “In this country, if you have a go, you get a go.”
With tertiary admissions centres in most states currently issuing offers of university places, Mr Tehan urged successful applicants to accept. “Everyone who received a university offer today should see it as an incredible opportunity and a stepping stone to realising their ambitions.”
However, while graduate work prospects have improved since 2014, they are still well short of those experienced before the global recession. For undergraduates four months out from completing their courses, full-time employment remains 12 percentage points below the rate of 85 per cent recorded in 2008.
A separate report summarising the views of 5,300 employers suggests they are marginally more satisfied with graduates’ skills than over the past couple of years, particularly in terms of employability.
Mr Tehan said the overall satisfaction rate of 85 per cent was the highest ever recorded in the Employer Satisfaction Survey.
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