Less work, lower pay: Victorian graduates pay price for pandemic

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Victorian university graduates are less likely to work full-time and are paid just below the national average, as COVID-19 restrictions reduce working hours and encourage more people to continue tertiary education.

The latest Graduate Outcomes Survey shows 67.2 per cent of Victorian graduates have gained full-time employment, compared with 69.2 per cent of graduates across Australia.

The median full-time salary for Victorian graduates was $64,700, slightly lower than the Australian median of $65,000, this year’s federal government-funded survey produced by the Social Research Centre showed.

The findings come as Victorian universities prepare to welcome small numbers of international students in the coming months and most of the state’s tertiary institutions mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for staff and students.

Australian National University higher education expert Andrew Norton said while the figures were not fantastic, they were “miles better than you might have expected” and would improve as lockdowns ended.

“Taking us back to early last year, my view was this would be the worst graduate employment results in data that goes back to the early 1970s, but it actually isn’t,” Professor Norton said.

The report finds work prospects have generally improved for graduates since the coronavirus pandemic first hit Australia early last year and the national unemployment rate peaked at 7.5 per cent.

But COVID-19 continues to affect the Australian labour market. The overall employment rate of graduates – which includes full-time, part-time and casual work – is the lowest on record for the second year in a row. Restrictions on movement are also reducing the hours worked by employed graduates.

In addition, a higher proportion of undergraduates – 21.1 per cent – proceeded to further study immediately following completion of their degree, which the report says might “reflect the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 environment”.

While graduates have been buffeted by COVID-19, the report notes “higher-level qualifications generally lead to improved salary outcomes in addition to improved employment outcomes”.

The median salary of all undergraduates employed full-time in 2021 was $65,000 a year (up 0.5 per cent a year). For postgraduate coursework graduates it was $89,700 (up 2.6 per cent) and for postgraduate research graduates it was $95,000 (up 2.1 per cent).

The study areas with the highest graduate salaries were dentistry at $100,000, medicine ($76,000), social work ($72,600), teacher education ($72,000) and engineering ($70,000).

The study areas with the lowest full-time median undergraduate salaries were pharmacy at $50,000, creative arts ($53,000), tourism, hospitality, personal services, sport and recreation ($54,900) and communications ($56,200).

The report found the gender pay gap remains, with female undergraduates earning 3.9 per cent less than their male counterparts in 2021.

The survey reflects responses from almost 128,000 domestic and international graduates who attended higher education institutions between March 2020 and February 2021.

International education has been Victoria’s largest services export industry for more than a decade.

Melbourne, Monash, Deakin, La Trobe and Swinburne universities recently issued vaccine mandates, with Deakin University’s vice-chancellor Iain Martin stating it was clear that “public spaces will increasingly be open only to people who are fully vaccinated”.

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