A new study that examines labour market outcomes of more than 10,700 disadvantaged Australian university graduates has found graduates from low socio-economic backgrounds and regional and remote areas have employment outcomes comparable to graduates from more privileged backgrounds.
The study, led by Assistant Professor Ian Li, from The University of Western Australia's School of Population Health, looked at employment outcomes for disadvantaged students using data linked from universities to the Australian Graduate Destination Survey (GDS). The likelihood of employment, qualification-job match, job quality and earnings were assessed.
"The positive employment outcomes for two of the equity groups we looked at indicates that higher education policy targeting increased participation from disadvantaged students is working well, and will level the playing field for disadvantaged individuals," Assistant Professor Li said.
The five equity groups examined included those in the low socioeconomic group; those originating from regional or remote regions in Australia; those from non-English speaking backgrounds; females in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields of study; those with a physical or mental disability; and those who identified as Indigenous.
Assistant Professor Li said the proportions of Indigenous graduates (less than 0.3 per cent), and graduates with a mental or physical disability (1.6 per cent), were low, indicating more needed to be done to encourage access, participation and completion of higher education.
While graduates from low SES and regional/remote backgrounds fared favourably, graduates from non-English speaking backgrounds lagged behind other graduates in finding a job and job earnings (particularly for female graduates from non-English speaking backgrounds compared to other female graduates), although there was no difference in terms of job match or job quality.
Female graduates were found to be under-represented in STEM fields of study. While female STEM graduates were as likely as their male counterparts to get a job, they were much less likely to have good jobs and earned substantially less.
"We conducted an analysis to see if the differences in employment outcomes and earnings for non-English speaking and female STEM graduates can be explained by other characteristics, for example, whether they earned less because they had poorer academic performance or because they were engaged in further study," Assistant Professor Li said.
"Our analysis indicates that their poorer labour market outcomes do not stem from their academic performance or human capital, and the source of their disadvantage lies elsewhere."
Despite increasing participation in higher education by people from disadvantaged backgrounds, research into post-graduation employment outcomes remains limited.
"The study of labour market outcomes of graduates from equity groups in Australia is important, and evaluates a key outcome of equity policies aimed at closing inequality for disadvantaged groups in Australia," said Professor Trinidad, Director of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE).
"Research in this area is vital to assessing the recent expansion in higher education, in terms of widening participation among equity groups, as well as the benefits of doing so for the broader community."
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