Increased access to higher education has not necessarily resulted in equal success after graduation, according to a recent journal article.
The article, ‘An Australian study of graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students’ by Tim Pitman, Lynne Roberts and Dawn Bennett from Curtin University and Dr Sarah Richardson, Research Director at ACER India, explores the factors that influence post-graduation outcomes for disadvantaged students.
Disadvantage and graduate employment
According to findings reported in the article, Indigenous and regional graduates have the best employment outcomes, in terms of security of tenure, median salary and proportion of graduates earning above $70 000. A greater proportion of Indigenous graduates than graduates in other equity groups are employed in the public sector.
Women graduating from science, engineering and information technology (IT)-related courses experience the worst graduate outcomes. This group was ranked last in terms of security of tenure, relevance of qualification and median part-time salaries. They were also below average for median full time salaries and the proportion earning above $70 000.
Women working in science, engineering and IT areas were, in general, not working in areas relevant to their expertise, and were most likely to be employed in sales.
Graduates from non-English speaking backgrounds also experienced poor outcomes compared to other groups, although they were above average in terms of the relevance of their qualification to their work.
Paid work and graduate employment
Paid work in the final year of study is associated with improved full-time work for all graduates. The relationship is strongest for Indigenous graduates, graduates with a disability and graduates from low-SES backgrounds. The relationship between final-year paid work and full-time work as graduates may simply be due to graduates continuing in pre-graduation employment where their degree qualification is not a formal requirement, rather than to graduation itself. Graduates were surveyed no more than six months after graduation, so they may not yet have had the opportunity to gain employment in an area where their degree qualification is a formal requirement.
A complex problem requires sophisticated strategies
Attempts to increase equity in higher education must recognise that different strategies are required for different groups of students. Disadvantage persists for many groups of students after they finish their degrees.
Efforts to attract women into non-traditional courses may be wasted if they are not better supported into relevant graduate employment. According to the authors, this requires a better understanding of the social, cultural or other barriers disadvantaged students face during and after their studies.
The study used data from more than 142 000 graduates who completed their studies in 2013 and 2104. Graduates were surveyed four to six months after graduation. ■
Tim Pitman, Lynne Roberts, Dawn Bennett and Sarah Richardson (2017): An Australian study of graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students, Journal of Further and Higher Education.