Graduates clear tables and ask: "was my degree worth it?'
Competition for graduate jobs in South Australia is fierce. I work in the labour market as a resume writer and employment specialist. My clients ask, ‘when will our universities start to focus on quality over quantity?’
"No-one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century that young men and women were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than their own; that as they busied themselves for new careers, university marketing departments regarded them with hungry eyes and drew their plans to enrol them.
The tempest bearing down on universities draws its energy from young people’s dreams of a good job after graduation. But there is a chasm between the dream and the reality.
In their quest for more taxpayer dollars, should publicly funded universities ignore the perilous state of the full-time employment market?
Late last year job advertisement market aggregator, Adzuna, found 22 university graduates were competing for every new graduate position nationally. The competition for graduate jobs was worst in South Australia with 46 recent university graduates fighting for each job.
There is a serious disconnection between enrolments and the local job market. According to Commonwealth Department of Education and Training figures, there were 11,895 domestic bachelor degree graduates from the three major South Australian universities in 2016. Including postgraduates, this figure rose to a whopping 19,680 graduates.
Many students do find work two or three years after graduating. Graduate surveys brag about this but, for many, it’s not the type of work they trained for. While universities brag about ‘employability’, that’s not the same as career-targeted employment.
For the last 30 years, universities have packed their faculties with professional and vocational degree programs. When criticised that many of these programs don’t lead to jobs, they say they’re not job factories and that striving for knowledge shouldn’t be connected to crass questions of employment.
For some, a university degree works very well. These graduates secure stable, well-paying jobs. These ‘success stories’ are profiled on university websites and in glossy brochures – especially if the graduates come from poor or migrant backgrounds. But the part does not tell the whole.
For 13 years I worked as a programs director and senior lecturer for a large technical university in Melbourne. I rose through the ranks by writing and launching new industry-based programs. I was responsible for 50 staff and about 1500 students.
I saw graduates and post-graduates in other schools and universities end up on Newstart after being charged HECS or full fees. Many did worthless “Job Active” taxpayer-subsidised training courses.
They wasted their skills and qualifications doing menial jobs that paid so little, they couldn’t afford to leave home or start repaying their HECS debt. Some employers exploited them as long-term, unpaid interns.