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Graduating on to the dole in South Australia

By Malcolm King - posted Wednesday, 30 November 2016

While our universities speak of liberalism and the spirit of enquiry, they are using the uncapped, demand-driven enrolment system to churn students through their packed faculties, leaving thousands to graduate on to the dole with high HECS debts.

Law graduates are working as baristas, engineering graduates are flogging laptops at Harvey Norman while marketing majors kneel before customers in shoe shops.

This is a national issue but in South Australia, the 'Big Three' publicly funded universities: Flinders University, the University of Adelaide and UniSA, are drifting further from the realities of the job market.


The demand-driven system comes from the Gillard Government declaration in 2010 that by 2025, 40 per cent of 25-34 year olds would have a bachelor degree. Yet it's this age cohort that is being hit hardest by unemployment and under employment.

According to Commonwealth Department of Education and Training (DET) figures, there were 11,895 domestic bachelor degree graduates from the 'Big Three' universities last year. If we include postgraduate awardees, the figure rises to a whopping 19,680 graduates.

The 2015 Graduate Destination Survey (GDS) provides the estimated number of bachelor degree graduates who have found a fulltime job four months after graduating.

But there's a problem. Individual universities administer the survey and graduates are invited to respond. While about 50 per cent of former students do so, those who haven't got a fulltime job or who are flipping burgers in 'Macca's', give it a miss. It's meaningless to report that 60 or 70 per cent of graduates found a fulltime contract job working in short term contracts.

The figures show sunshine when it's raining on a significant percentage of the graduate population. They need to sample the whole cohort.


According to recent research by the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University, between 2008-2014, the proportion of new university graduates in full time employment dropped from 89 per cent to 67 per cent.

Flinders University Adjunct Professor Tom Karmel said on the ABC recently that students would struggle to find work.

"That's not to say they won't get a job, but people have to start thinking about the return that they get on their degrees," he said. "There's been no doubt that universities have been very keen to expand their enrolments. There's a clear financial incentive to do so but I think they're going to be under more and more scrutiny in terms of the outcomes for the graduates."

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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