Universities Urged To Be Upfront With Students About Work Prospects

Universities need to own up to the fact not all graduates will get jobs in their field of choice or risk adding to graduate oversupply, the head of the Group of Eight has warned.

Its chief executive, Vicki Thomson, made the remarks in a speech on Wednesday calling for greater transparency in admissions and a national admission body to replace five separate state-based systems.

At a conference on redefining admissions strategies in Sydney, Thomson warned that “less rigorous admission criteria” can enable students with low Atar scores “to consider university is necessarily for them”.

“There appears to be some cringe factor in stating openly that university may not be for everyone,” she said, reprising comments made earlier in August warning of pressure to attend uni resulting in an oversupply of graduates.

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Thomson warned that admission policies were complex because there was “a risk of admitting students who, even if they do complete, will have little chance of finding employment in their chosen career”.

“Should we be admitting them when we know at that time the graduate will be faced with that potential unfortunate outcome?”

Thomson said universities owed it to potential students to provide transparency regarding their career choice at the end of their study period.

She cited statistics demonstrating the difficulty of some career paths, including that in New South Wales 47,000 people were seeking teaching jobs, almost as many as the 48,000 who are now employed in the state’s public system.

Thomson warned that the system of uncapped university places may not be financially sustainable in the long term.

The demand-driven system was only introduced in 2012, so graduates had only just begun appearing in employment and salary surveys, she said. The comment suggests a deterioration in outcomes may occur when the full effects of the system wash through.

Thomson said the Group of Eight – a coalition of some of Australia’s oldest universities – was more focused on retention and completion of students than enrolment. She boasted they had an attrition rate of 7.1% for first-year students compared with the national rate of 14.8%.

“The Go8 is very concerned that half of all students with an Atar of 59 or below will not complete their degrees. That outcome represents a great cost to the student and the taxpayer; both of whom are left with a large financial debt for no result.”

She added that failing to complete a degree led to an “emotional cost” for students.

She called for support for students with low Atar scores to finish their degrees:“If the Go8 has a plea, it is don’t set students up to fail.”

The education minister Simon Birmingham has asked Western Sydney University chancellor, Peter Shergold, to lead a review of university admissions.

In a speech on Friday in Melbourne, Birmingham said students needed to be put “in the driving seat through greater transparency around admissions”.

“Greater transparency on student satisfaction and employment outcomes will also allow students to make more informed choices about their study options and career prospects,” he said.

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Thomson called for a single national system for admission applications, to replace the five separate state-based systems which she said caused “various degrees of consumer orientation or disorientation”.

A single system would open up choice for students and save the cost of multiple university applications, she said. “We will lobby hard for that to occur and to occur in the not-too-distant future.”

Thomson said greater transparency would counter a perception that the sector tossed around bonus points for special university entry “like confetti”. “Only total transparency can reassure potential students and their families that the system is just,” she said.

In response to earlier claims of graduate oversupply, the Macquarie University deputy vice-chancellor John Simons has described the idea universities could produce too many graduates as “frankly bizarre”.

He said degrees boost employment prospects and many people studying degrees such as law might not intend to become lawyers but undertook the degrees to improve their choices.

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