University degree printer delivers 22 unemployed graduates for every job

By Leith van Onselen

From The SMH comes a report on the dire situation facing Australia’s university graduates:

Across Australia, about 22 university graduates are competing for every new graduate position and many will need to settle for low-paying entry roles “just to get their foot in the jobs market”, a new national report has found…

Nationally, 130,105 people who recently left university with bachelor degrees are competing for 5783 advertised graduate positions, the report found, based on an analysis of the Department of Education’s university completion data and recent job advertisements.

…some fields, such as law and teaching, are much harder to find work in than others.

“It’s cheap for universities to churn out courses in certain areas, especially degrees outside the sciences with [fewer] contact hours and teachers,” Mr Watson said.

“With deregulation, there are more places and scores drop, but there just aren’t the jobs at the end of it, so you have a huge number of graduates who aren’t needed.

“You end up behind a bar or in some other job that’s unrelated to what you studied. You see a lot of law graduates going into sales or call centres.”

More than 7500 Australian students graduated with law degrees in 2015 but there are about 84 graduate law positions advertised nationally on Adzuna, which captures about 80 per cent of the overall job market.

This equates to about 90 new law graduates per available graduate position.

I have said it before and I will say it again: uncapping of university places was a massive policy blunder and is the biggest driver of the current problems afflicting Australia’s university system.

It has facilitated a form of ‘quantitative easing’, whereby universities have lowered entrance scores and printed as many degrees as possible to accumulate Commonwealth government funding through HELP/HECS loans.

The end result is that the universities have flooded the market with so many graduates that a university degree has lost its value, despite the significant cost to both students and the Budget. The torrent of graduates has also swamped the labour market, which is unable to keep up with the supply.

The situation has, of course, been made worse by Australian universities’ heavy financial dependence on foreign students, and the need to attract, year in and year out, huge numbers of foreign students.

This, too, has contributed to the drop in university standards in a bid to keep student numbers (and profits) flowing.

Given the abject failures of the demand-driven system, I believe that policy should first and foremost look to restrict federal funding and adopt a merit-based system that rations the number of university places based on a detailed assessment of the economy’s needs.

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Comments

      • 457’s will work for less, they will work harder as you can always threaten to send ’em home, and thanks to Malcolm’s recent changes to the law, you can deduct the cost of getting them in (around $4500) from their salary.

      • reusachtigeMEMBER

        I would only hire those willing to work for the lowest pay as they will always be desperate to keep their jobs and will work hard to help maximise profits. That, of course, means 457 visas under threat.

    • We still hire graduates in the specialist areas but no longer in the more general less skill specific office administration type roles, HR or contract supervision. Explicitly, no Business, Commerce, Accounting, Economics, Marketing, Psychology, Human anything.

      • Who does the book keeping, prepares the company’s tax returns, follows up on late payers and looks after the payroll?

      • Don’t need grads for most of that. There are finance types, just not newly minted, software and external accountants are adequate.

    • My old place didn’t hire grads just wage slaves shackled by 457 visas. At an interview last week I asked whether they had a grad programme. They seemed confused and when quizzed as to why I asked, I said it shows that company is willing to invest in people. They didn’t have a grad programme and I am probably not going to take the job.

      • Grad programs are also discriminatory. So ‘invests in its people’ in one hand and ‘hates on those who never went to Uni’ in the other. Having a bachelors just means you know how to pass a course. Why is a bachelor more worthy of being invested in than someone who went to TAFE?

        People who go to Uni just to get a better job share some blame in how we end up with so many useless degrees and universities with twisted priorities. Keep Uni for academia. Hard sciences and the like. Not just a ‘more elite TAFE’.

    • Actually before someone tells me off about 457 Visa holders, we don’t hire them either.
      Someone suggested it recently and they were shut down.
      What I’m saying is that technology has come so far, we don’t have any entry level roles anymore.

  1. But but but but!! This valuable member of the society told me that it’s all going to be fine, in his funny and entertaining way:

    https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/1055511619762/adam-ruins-everything-the-economy

    I mean – sure – we don’t make things anymore – but you know… services economy man!! Coding man!! Aged care man!! Wooo!

    I may have to move, right? And re-skill, right? Where? Oh – I guess one of them diploma mills universities, right? Wooo!!

  2. scootytootyMEMBER

    Don’t forget that the cost of taking up training for a trade has significantly increased, meanwhile the industry still has the notion that apprentices should work for peanuts like they did ‘back in their day’. If you ask for a wage that you can live on, you are rejected as an entitled little snot.

  3. Stormy WatersMEMBER

    I agree with your overall thesis, but the basis of that 1:22 ratio is complete bullshit. Not a single decent law firm advertises for grad lawyers. They are converting summer interns and beating off others with a stick. The top shelf firms alone would take in hundreds if not a couple thousand grads per year.

    That’s not to say the firms can or should absorb 7500 law grads per annum but don’t resort to hyper-bowlic analysis.

      • reusachtigeMEMBER

        Yes, as it should be. Understanding law is a generational thing that only the right class of people understand.

    • The top firms might take 10 each in a good year.

      On the more general point, a recent uni grad I know is happily employed doing the student job he had while at uni. It’s a junior management role that pays more than the grad jobs in his field.

    • Yes, there is a change in entry pattern with legal graduates with summer jobs being used as a test period. Plus outside of the public sector (where everything has to be advertised) and possibly non profits, why would firms advertise for the positions when they already get enough unsolicited applications?
      The ratio is wrong but the premise that there is too many graduates in the legal field is not.

    • Partly true. Grad positions are given almost exclusively to selected summer clerks. The number of grad positions has been slashed. Also, positions mysteriously seem to go to children whose parents hold management positions in clients of the firm. It’s pretty darn disgusting.

  4. Great!
    Now the ‘job’ ladder to complement the ‘property’ ladder.
    ‘Snakes and Ladders’ AKA Straya- the fun-filled board game guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat!
    For all ages!

  5. The higher degrees are the most worthless of all. The cost is also insane. There are Unis out there charging $50k for a MBA. I did mine for 25% of that figure and it was almost not worth it.

    • Philly SlimMEMBER

      you get what you pay for. Most australian degrees are worthless.

      my mba cost USD$100k. but I did it at an ivy league in the USA and it was worth every penny. went into wall street and paid it back in 2 years.

      • Yup, did the same. Didn’t learn anything of any practical use but it got me into the door and the rest is history.

        A very concerned mate asked me at the time I chose to do my MSc (Fin) whether I’d ever be able to get back on financial terms i.e. going without a year’s salary, living costs for a year and the cost of the course. Lol

    • Masters degrees are pitched and priced for a market which is almost exclusively international students.
      At UNSW there are almost no locals at all doing them.
      The pricing is madness and not worth it at all (especially because the course content is poor because the students are poor quality).

      • I’d imagine that unless you got a spot in academia (among about 100 lecturers, at a guess), it would be extremely difficult at any time to get a job in Australia with a PhD in Chemical Engineering, a country with no chemical or even manufacturing industry to speak of.

  6. I’ve interviewed graduate Software Engineers who I swear knew little to nothing about software, computers, or anything at all really. On one particularly memorable occasion I asked one of our standard questions about processor context switching after an interrupt and the candidate (who had an excellent academic record, by the way) hummed and hawed and then said “Well, I should know about that because I did the Embedded Systems course last semester, and did well in the exam 6 weeks ago, but I just can’t tell you anything at all about the question”.

    As a fairly recent graduate from the same uni I was asked a very similar question at an interview back in the 1980’s, and I was able to provide chapter and verse on the subject during a 3 hour long technical grilling at which I was able to provide detailed and correct answers to every question.

    I suspect that many modern degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, or the electrons they’re transmitted with, or however they’re delivered these days.

    • “Well, I should know about that because I did the Embedded Systems course last semester, and did well in the exam 6 weeks ago, but I just can’t tell you anything at all about the question”.”

      that person was probably telling the truth. they very likely learned about it in the class, passed the exam and now have completely forgotten what they learned. this is normal for most university graduates. the idea that most people can remember stuff they learned on an exam 3 years ago, or even 6 weeks ago, that they have never been required to revise past that time is a flawed assumption.

      university is a really bad way to teach people stuff. learning anything is a process that requires constant revision and repetitive engagement with stimulus content over a period of years. 80% of degrees need to be replaced with workplace apprenticeships.

      • Oh yeah, true dat. But still, if I was applying for a job as an embedded realtime Software Engineer, I would’ve dragged out my books and revised the relevant stuff in the days prior to the interview to at least give the appearance that some of the course content had sunk in.

        We interviewed another candidate in that cohort who got the job, and ten years later he’s one of our most respected Engineers. Those two interviews really stand out in my mind.

      • you are probably a very smart cookie, and just not representative of most peeps.

        I support taking the taxpayer money we spend on university places and instead using it to incentivise businesses to take apprenticeships. I think we should be able to have apprenticeships for most professions except maybe stuff like medicine and a few other things. lawyers should have apprenticeships again and law degrees should mostly be phased out.

      • Replying to stagmal. Thats how it works in Germany. Apprenticeship for most professions mixed with some Tafe style traning. For higher level stuff a technical uni, and 6 months training. Further education is about creating taxpaying workers. Education system is not a business.

    • We have similar experience. Even worse, universities are now making IT and engineering graduates do projects and no exams. Project members work in teams of up to six members. This means the uni only has 1/6 of the marking to do.

      All team members get the same mark, and it is hard to tell who did what, or even if they just paid someone on e-lancer or hire-a-programmer to complete the project for them.

    • Random PunterMEMBER

      Colour me unsurprised. I like to ask graduate engineering candidates “What is Manning’s equation?”. This is first year fluid dynamics, very simple stuff.
      Almost uniformly they are able to recite the actual formula or something close to it, but when pushed as to the meaning of the component variables and the applicability to free surface flow, not a single person has managed to get it right yet.

      • In fourth year heat transfer our lecturer pulled a fast one – he set an exam with no numbers, and with questions like ‘A hot body is placed adjacent to a copper rod connected to a lump of steel both at ambient temp at time 0. Draw the temperature profile at time 0 and draw it also at steady state’. Zero was a very common mark for that question, especially among people who usually did very well.

    • Time difference. In the 80s you had to remember details because books are heavy and you needed to burn that shit in however you could.

      In the 00s, you can pop a browser and access reference material in less than 30 seconds.

      There are studies that demonstrate that if the brains KNOWS it can find information again (e.g. stored in a spouse’s head) it won’t retain it. Google is now the ‘spouse’ of everyone. I often remember precise search terms and similar things related to my search for the information, rather than remember the information itself.

      and yes, thats nowhere near as useful as someone who actually just remembers stuff. Everyone I’ve met who was a coder in the 80s (or hobbyist) can tell me details about their platform. Whereas those of us who grew up with stack overflow… >_>

      Military grads might be different. I imagine they’re expected to always know their shit even without internet.

    • It’s the lack of a free market in education that has caused this – you can hardly call this a market system when every student has access to interest-free HECS loans funded by the taxpayer. I have no doubt that privately funded universities with unsubsidised student loans would produce more efficient allocation of resources.

      • ” I have no doubt that privately funded universities with unsubsidised student loans would produce more efficient allocation of resources.”

        lmao.

        NO.

      • Ah, the old “scholarship to get the smart peasants in, tuition fees for the rich brats who will get splattered with the prestige from the peasant scholars, and tuition fees + generous donations for the dumb as bricks kids who need some proof that they’re worth more than the average peasant”.

        I think Ivy League schools have very adequately demonstrated that while they are capable of producing amazing graduates, they also let some truly shit people through at roughly the same time a new wing gets funded by said shit person’s parents. I wouldn’t want to work for or serve one of these fakers. I have no choice in that, but without public funding the upper classes can entrench their role as our rulers uncontested because average education is still better than no education.

  7. ” “Well, I should know about that because I did the Embedded Systems course last semester, and did well in the exam 6 weeks ago, but I just can’t tell you anything at all about the question”.”

    that person was probably telling the truth. they very likely learned about it in the class, passed the exam and now have completely forgotten what they learned. this is normal for all university graduates. the idea that most people can remember stuff they learned on an exam 3 years ago, or even 6 weeks ago, that theyhave never been required to revise ever past that time is a flawed assumption.

    university is a really bad way to teach people stuff. learning anything is a process that requires constant revision and repetitive engagement with stimulus content over a period of years. 80% of degrees need to be replaced with workplace apprenticeships.

  8. Uncapping the places just creates a bunch of debt laden trained unemployed people. Not what our society needs or wants, they also undervalue the degrees prior generations earned, as already highlighted by others here, we have a lot of people with these degrees that absolutely know nothing about the fields they studied.

  9. Then as it cost $17k pa to educate a child in our public school system is it wasted taxpayer money or paying off the teaching sector so they don’t bother the Government folk (probably unconsciously for most of them).

    • i’m in a really similar situation, 6 months from getting a bachelor of business management. i’m screwed.

      i’m considering cooking up a fake resume with a bunch of phony references on it and just going with that.

      • I’m dumping about 60% of my salary into school fees for the kids which means I’m paying my own way; but what for if the money is actually wasted. Kinda feel sick in the stomach.

      • Stagmal, put on your resume that you have completed year 12. I was never asked to produce my year 12 certificate in job interviews. Did you do year 8 at a high school? If yes, put on your resume “obtained HSC (year 12) from that high school”.

      • hi Jacob I didn’t finish high school but I did complete a TAFE “tertiary preparation course” which is like the TAFE equivalent of HS.

      • Learn to do something which has a value that an employer will be willing to pay for. Can you look at a process and make it more efficient? Do you have specific industry knowledge? Can you cost projects? Can you drive traffic to the company website? Whatever it happens to be.

      • Learn to do something which has a value that an employer will be willing to pay for. Can you look at a process and make it more efficient? Do you have specific industry knowledge? Can you cost projects? Can you drive traffic to the company website?

        Most importantly, can you get past a keyword filter and “HR business associate” with zero domain knowledge spending 10-15 seconds scanning your resume to have any chance at demonstrating to somebody maybe vaguely involved in the useful side of the business your ability ?

    • Get experience, work for free, network, brown nose…. do what it takes but understand that you need to stand out.
      You also need to take the initiative. Work out what you really want to do and find people (not some HR moron) but the actual people doing that and make friends, offer to be their bitch…. just get in the door.
      Your university degree isn’t worth anything. The ONLY thing that matters is how you enhance the business of the people who you want to work for. You need to justify your job based on how you help them.

    • Commerce would cover eCommerce right? I’m sure you’ll find your way. Australia is still in the process of going online. Just look at Myer, Harvey Norman etc. Our country is really far behind. Amazon is going to get some panic going. So there will be some work (as there has been over the last 20 years) in helping companies adjust to a new commercial environment. Your youth and familiarity with the internet can help you there.

  10. “More than 7500 Australian students graduated with law degrees in 2015 but there are about 84 graduate law positions advertised nationally on Adzuna, which captures about 80 per cent of the overall job market. This equates to about 90 new law graduates per available graduate position.” And many of these are specifying a Mandarin language requirement. What a con.

  11. Degrees should be like aircraft. A firm named Boom is trying to build supersonic civilian aircraft and they already have orders from 5 airlines – even though Boom is yet to fly anything.

    In the same way, 19 year olds should be required to have a job to go to in order to be admitted to a government-funded degree.

    And there should be a $140/day tax on each work visa!

    • No, I don’t mind putting taxes towards smarter and harder working people than myself being given the opportunity to explore their intellectual limits. I may or may not get payback in the form of that individual doing something that is beneficial to myself or my community.

      What I don’t like, is kids being raised to think that Uni is simply what follows High School, and an indicator of a person’s value to society. Or rather, what I don’t like is funding kids who are using Uni to delay the inevitable or aren’t applying themselves. I won’t say “hard sciences only!” but if you’re going to study art, society, whatever it is, you’d better be taking it seriously and scoring competitively internationally. (Producing quality papers). These people are a minority in society. The rest only need diplomas and apprenticeships. Make mature-age uni application available to those who may find later in life they need that next step.

  12. Companies should bypass the universities altogether and open their own training courses for people – kind of like an apprenticeship. Courses could be heavily discounted or free in exchange for work and/or could be scaled as their experience increases. The aim is to train people right into a position bypassing the need for an expensive degree and also allowing companies to nurture their future employees.

    Cut out the middle person

    • i have long supported this idea, but in order for it to work there has to be an incentive for employers to train people and take on apprentices. by reducing university places they will have no choice to do so to find workers, and we can use the taypayer money we ordinarily would have spent on education to incentivise and subsidise employee training programs instead. i think we can slash university enrolments by 2/3rds with this method.

      • Given the surplus of grads, and that about a third of new workplace entrants were educated overseas I strongly doubt slashing uni places will have a strong enough effect on supply to force employers to start to pay for training their workers to that extent again.

      • still beats the full steam ahead in the direction we’re going now approach. imagine how bad this situation is going to be in 10 years time.

      • To be more direct about it, your policy in isolation would further increase the expense of hiring local school leavers (because you’d have to allow for the cost of training and for paying them while they’re unproductive for a few years). They are already not cost competitive compared to hiring experienced people from overseas – that’s how this situation has developed. Cutting migration will do more to fix the problem than anything to do with uni places.

      • and it is because we have allowed them to do it and facilitated it through our university system, smithy. i am only speaking in hypothicals here. what i am proposing we return to is no more likely to occur than immigration restrictionism.

    • Infosys has a huge training campus and makes heaps of profit (not from the campus but from exporting software).

      But firms in AUS are given 457 visas for $0 each. There needs to be a $140/day tax on each work visa to force firms to hire Aussie graduates. This must be happening in Japan which has an unemployment rate of 2.8%.

  13. MediocritasMEMBER

    I just finished marking 40 Masters projects. Some of them were so bad that I’d fail them at a year 8 level of English competence. So fail them I did, only to be overridden by colleagues in the marking panel.

    The only way to fail is to not hand in assignments at all. It’s a total joke.

    Having a university degree used to mean something. No longer. Full-fee paying foreign students are a cash cow to be milked as long as possible, no matter how incompetent. Universities are just expensive social clubs for youngsters.

    What shits me the most is that there are some students that are truly outstanding. Putting in serious effort. The value of their effort, the value of their degree, is being eroded by the elimination of a low-end threshold thanks to the “devolution” of education into a $$$ chasing enterprise.

    • Not surprising since they have killed off other avenues (engineering trades, skills, etc.) to learning in what little industry Australia used to have. It has really only left one increasingly costly route for success. To maintain the illusion more can ‘succeed’ standards have been butchered and mediocrity is on the rise. This includes many of the useless overseas students – 7eleven fodder. We are aping the failing US educational model.

      The sad thing is they (government) dribble on about having ‘improved’ educational outcomes but without a ‘competitive’ and vibrant economy and national planning to know what skills and expertise are required an education ‘strategy’ is utterly meaningless.

    • The marking should be done independently. What a sick joke.

      I know the left wing wants mass low-wage immigration, so why not just sell PR visas for $250k each? Then, the degrees can maintain their value while AUS continues to be flooded with car wash staff and restaurant staff on $10/hour.

  14. Australia is faithfully aping the failing neoliberal economic mess which is the US economy. The future looks terrible as we are building nothing for the future.

  15. My advice to many young ppl would be to leave school in year 10-12 and spending 4-6 years working instead of going to uni, and develop real life skills like building relationships, problem solving, good work ethic etc. Skills that you can use for the rest of your life across many different occupations. You’ll also make a crap load more money and have no hex debt. Miss out on all the uni parties though 🙁

    • I dunno. Having followed that path I can say that there are pros and cons to both sides, serious ones. A grad can’t escape their debts, a non-grad can’t easily break into jobs where a degree is an assumed minimum requirement. Former grads hire grads.

      • HECS debt is not an issue for the student – it only needs to be paid back once you get to a certain income. But the ALP want wages to continue shrinking, so more and more of the HECS debt will never be paid back. And that is bad for the federal budget. But then so are the “skilled” immigrants working here for $10/hour.

        Degrees are not needed for entry level jobs.

      • To help people in another context I scoped out a number of near neighbour Asian countries that don’t need a cash down payment to immigrate. IE so you could work there teaching English, etc. The problem with that is that a number of warnings exist on the Dept. Foreign Affairs website. Still I know of 2 people doing it. Nurse in India. Electrical engineer voluntarily teaching sparky stuff in E Timor.

  16. I think “Arts” (is that a misnomer?) Degrees or Social Studies Degrees (as I call them) should be handed out to everybody once they finish year 12. People could then do specialist courses online if they wanted to study any of them in greater detail and be given extra credits. There should be no PhD level qualifications in these courses. Online fees should be minimal.

    This would save a lot of money by the public and individuals. I think MB should take this matter up as a microeconomic reform issue.

    The conferring of Law Degrees via universities should be discontinued, and everybody who wants a basic law degree and can prove via a public test that they have the requisite level of intelligence, a year 12 education plus 7 years work experience should be allowed to practice law. Law firms could provide some on the job training. This would save a heap of money all round. The market would still decide who is good at law and who stinks, as it does now.

    There you have it – some major solutions to our education malaise.

    And always remember – Make a difference – Vote One Nation. There is nothing else left out there to vote for if you want change.

  17. Most jobs that now ‘require’ a degree do not need a degree. Jobs that 16 and 17 year olds leaving school did back in the proper old days (pre bullshit days) with lots of osmosis learning backed up with a bit of night school etc, well, now employers are demanding graduates which in turn creates a nasty positive feedback loop into the scheme/scam we now have running for the benefit of uni profs and loan sharks etc
    Until we have a government that starts putting the people first and putting responsibility back on to employers then we will carry on wasting people and money.

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