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You are reading: Disadvantage persists for graduates, except those working in their final year

A new report investigating the relationship between equity in Australian higher education and graduate outcomes, released today, has found that patterns of disadvantage persist when students complete university, but also that paid work in the final year of study matters in graduate outcomes.

The report, Investigating the Relationship between Equity and Graduate Outcomes, funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) at Curtin University, drills deeper into questions of equity in Australian higher education, moving beyond access and participation.

Chief investigator and Research Director at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), Dr Sarah Richardson, said the research adds to our understanding of what actually happens when students complete university.

“Access and participation are useful measures of equity in higher education, but we also need to know the extent to which patterns of disadvantage continue after completion,” Dr Richardson said.

“What effect does university completion have on employment and on salaries on graduates from different backgrounds, and importantly what effect does it have on the careers of graduates over time?”

“Our analysis shows that multiple characteristics of disadvantage have a negative effect on graduate employment, but undertaking paid work in the final year of study strongly predicts whether a graduate will be employed, regardless of characteristics of disadvantage.”

“More than 70 per cent of graduates undertake paid work in the final year of their study, with the proportion highest among graduates from regional areas, who are Indigenous or from low socioeconomic status backgrounds.”

Although this finding suggests the value of employment during study, the findings also sound a cautionary note.

“Graduates who undertake paid work in their final year of study earn less than those who do not do so, even though they are more likely to be in employment,” Dr Richardson said.

NCSEHE Director, Professor Sue Trinidad, endorsed the recommendation in the report for the implementation of finer measures beyond access, participation and employability.

“Among other recommendations, the report calls for the development of a measure of post-graduation employment that distinguishes between employment gained as a result of graduation and employment as a continuation of paid work while studying, and that differentiates between graduate-level and other work,” Professor Trinidad said.

“The collection of data from graduates at multiple intervals after graduation would also enable us to identify the long-term contribution of university education to careers.”