Australian degrees rated less highly by graduates than bosses

Australian survey finds ‘strong relationship’ between graduates’ attributes and demands of their jobs

January 30, 2020
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Australian graduates’ degrees are considered more relevant by their employers than by the graduates themselves, a report suggests.

In a survey of thousands of Australian managers, 62 per cent rated their staff’s higher education qualifications as “important” or “very important” to the jobs being performed. Just 53 per cent of the workers offered the same assessment.

The figures, published in the 2019 Employer Satisfaction Survey, illustrate the varying judgements of degrees’ value in the workplace. Those that fulfil occupational accreditation requirements – such as engineering, health, architecture and education qualifications – are well regarded by bosses and workers alike.

Some 70 per cent of health and education graduates, and almost 80 per cent of their supervisors, consider the qualifications “important for current employment”.

But fewer than half of employers of creative arts, management, commerce and information technology graduates rate the qualifications as important to the work.

Employers proved marginally less positive about their workers’ qualifications than they had in 2018, and marginally less inclined to say so. About 4,700 supervisors responded to the survey.

Employers’ overall satisfaction with graduates also declined from a 2018 peak, falling almost one percentage point to 84 per cent, although this was “not statistically significant”, the report stresses.

“Overall, there appears to be a strong relationship between skills and knowledge acquired by higher education graduates and the requirements of their jobs after graduation,” the report says. “This result affirms the value of higher education qualifications for employment.”

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the results showed that her members produced “graduates who are work-ready, highly employable and able to make an immediate contribution in the workplace”.

“This is a strong endorsement, direct from employers, that Australia’s universities are preparing students to succeed in the world of work,” she said. “This survey…seeks feedback from the people who see first hand a graduate’s skills in action.”

The survey sourced participants’ contact details from respondents to Australia’s Graduate Outcome Survey, the report explains. “Many other employer surveys are not conducted on a systematic basis and report the perceptions of executives who may have had little or no direct experience with graduates.”

According to the report, the survey is also large enough to compare results by field of education, institution and demographic group, among other variables. “Other employer surveys of Australian higher education graduates are much smaller in scale.”

Private and niche universities attracted the highest overall employer satisfaction ratings. Bond University topped the table for the second year running, followed by the University of Divinity, Australian Catholic University and the universities of Wollongong and Notre Dame Australia.

Murdoch University recorded the lowest overall satisfaction rating of about 76 per cent, with the universities of New England, Western Australia and Torrens also rating below 80 per cent.

Education minister Dan Tehan noted that the government had made graduate employment outcomes the key metric in its performance-based university funding scheme. “About 330,000 Australians are expected to start a university degree in 2020,” he said. “It’s important they can expect to earn a qualification that will help them get a job and get ahead.”  

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