Fewer Australian doctoral graduates finding employment after PhD

But employment rates for bachelor’s graduates ‘stabilise’ despite pandemic

October 5, 2021
jobseeker unemployed out of work casual
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Short-term employment rates for Australian bachelor’s degree graduates have “stabilised somewhat” despite the pandemic, but work prospects for people with new master’s and doctoral qualifications have continued to decline.

Fewer than 78 per cent of Australians with postgraduate research degrees had full-time jobs within half a year of qualifying between November 2020 and May 2021, according to a new report. This compared with short-term employment rates of over 80 per cent in 2020, 81 per cent in 2019 and 82 per cent in 2018.

The Social Research Centre said short-term employment rates for PhD graduates had hit their lowest level since 2015. “This could reflect a decrease in current employment opportunities in the higher education sector, which is one of the highest employment sectors for this cohort,” it said.

While university employment may be in the doldrums, opportunities in the broader economy are rebounding, according to the 2021 Graduate Outcomes Survey.

Released on 5 October, it charts university students’ job and pay experiences between four and six months after their graduation. Results from a companion longitudinal report, which traces graduate outcomes after three years, were published in late September.

The new report summarises almost 130,000 graduates’ responses to surveys conducted in November, February and May. In November 2020, full-time employment among bachelor’s graduates had crashed below 61 per cent, some 7 percentage points lower than the previous November.

But by May, the rate had recovered to 72 per cent, less than 1 percentage point below the equivalent figure from 2019.

Lisa Bolton, the SRC’s director of research and strategy for the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching higher education performance data, said the results reflected pandemic-induced “turbulence” in the graduate labour market.

She said a crash in employment rates early in the pandemic had been clearly demonstrated in the November survey, with earlier impacts probably masked by the JobKeeper wage subsidy programme and the buoyant pre-Covid professional job market. “But in line with the general labour market trends reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we can now see they have been recovering.”

Universities Australia said the survey results demonstrated the value of higher education, notwithstanding the pandemic’s impacts. “A degree continues to give students the edge in an increasingly competitive employment market,” said chief executive Catriona Jackson.

“As vaccination rates improve…and more states begin to open up, it is highly likely the premium for graduates will grow further.”

Education minister Alan Tudge said the results were good news. “Despite the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, students are getting on with their lives, graduating and moving quickly into full-time work,” he said.

Mr Tudge said the results reflected the rationale underpinning last year’s Job-ready Graduates reforms, which reduced fees in national priority areas thought to provide the best job prospects.

The report shows that employment rates from bachelor’s degrees in science and maths, favourably regarded under the JRG reforms, rose 2 percentage points to about 61 per cent. They leapfrogged the job outcomes from out-of-favour humanities, culture and social science courses, which fell 3 percentage points to 58 per cent.

But both areas lagged well behind the disfavoured areas of business and management, in which 73 per cent of graduates had full-time work within six months.


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