12th January 2018
Impact of global financial crisis and increased supply of university-educated candidates leaves 38% of graduates in part-time work
University leavers in Australia are increasingly settling for part-time employment after graduation as a flood of job seekers holding bachelor degrees dilute their own buying power.
On Friday the latest graduate outcomes survey revealed that the last decade has seen a rise of 17 percentage points increase in the number of university leavers in part-time employment, while the number of recent graduates in full-time work remains stubbornly below below the levels of the global financial crisis.
It’s what the survey authors say is part of a “pronounced trend towards part-time employment among graduates”. Between 2008 and 2017 the proportion of employed graduates working part-time increased by 17 percentage points to 38% of all graduates.
While the shift to part-time employment is part of a broader trend in the labour market, it’s particularly pronounced amongst university leavers.
For example in 2017 male graduates were far more likely to be employed part-time than the overall male workforce. Part-time employment was 32% for male graduates compared with 18.7% for employed men overall.
Phil Lewis, the director of the Centre for Labour Market Research at the University of Canberra, said the trend to part-time employment was down to supply and demand.
Between 2009 and 2016 domestic undergraduate enrolments grew by 33%, which Lewis said was have an impact on employer choice.
“There’s a certain number of people and a certain number of jobs,” he said.
“When the economy is booming the queue becomes very short so employers take whoever they can get [but] the huge increase in graduates since the introduction of the demand-driven system just means the queue gets bigger.
“These people will get a job eventually but at the moment new graduates are right at the back because employers can pick whoever they want.”
The survey also found that since 2008 the full-time employment rate among bachelor degree holders has fallen from 85% to 71.8%.
Bruce Guthrie, a research manager from Graduate Careers Australia, said: “In a way it’s the unfortunate timing of an increase in graduate output coinciding with a reduced demand for new graduates.
“I used to hold out hopes that the situation would return to pre-GFC levels of strong employment outcomes for new graduates but it looks like the GFC has dislocated many industries and patterns of doing business world-wide and it might be that we’ll never get back to those levels of demand.”
The survey comes as the federal education minister Simon Birmingham engages in a war with universities over funding.
In its mid-year budget update the government announced it will cut $2.2bn from universities predominantly through a two-year freeze in commonwealth grants funding for teaching and learning – effectively the end of the demand-driven system.
The minister has signalled that he will seek to force universities to improve graduate outcomes by attaching performance-based measures including graduate outcomes to funding.
He said the survey demonstrated the benefits of “ensuring universities are more accountable and transparent about the job prospects of their graduates”.
“For example the results show that 82% of graduates with degrees in teaching secured full-time employment within four months of finishing, with the figure dipping to 60% for graduates in the creative arts and communications fields,” he said.
But Catriona Jackson, Universities Australia acting chief executive, pointed out the figures only accounted for graduate outcomes four months after graduating.
“The data shows that graduates, like everyone entering the labour market, need time to establish in their careers. But this immediate outlook can shift quickly – within three years of finishing their studies, nine in 10 graduates are employed full-time,” she said.