New figures challenge the assumptions behind the Job-Ready Graduates package, introduced by the former Coalition government and unchanged by Labor. That package has underestimated the value and employability of arts, social science and humanities graduates.
The employment outcomes of students enrolled in arts, social sciences and humanities degrees have risen to 89.6 per cent – an increase of 25 percentage points according to the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) 2022 Longitudinal Graduate Outcomes Survey released this month.
The Package, introduced under former Education Minister Dan Tehan in 2020 and implemented this year, has seen the cost for students of many arts, social science and humanities degrees more than double.
QILT’s longitudinal study shows that the graduates in a wide range of disciplines, including arts, social sciences and humanities are highly employable and that attempts to drive students into some fields at the expense of others are misplaced.
The report measures the medium-term outcomes of higher education graduates based on a cohort analysis of graduates who responded to the 2019 Graduate Outcomes Survey.
It noted the figures around generalist degrees “continue to demonstrate an important point – that while undergraduates from some fields of education, in particular those with generalist degrees, have weaker employment outcomes soon after completing their course, the gap in employment outcomes across fields of education tends to narrow over time.”
The Federal Government must commit to abandoning the policy which is putting our students at a significant financial disadvantage.Nick Bisley
It also states that while vocational degrees tend to have higher employment outcomes than generalist degrees in the short term “the gap in employment rates between those with vocational and generalist degrees diminishes over time”.
80 per cent of students following their passions
This research follows earlier findings from the Universities Admission Centre Student Lifestyle Report. It found 81 per cent of the nearly 14,000 Year 12 students interviewed said passion would guide their choices for further study.
Four in five of last year’s high school graduates have said passion is their leading influence when choosing a degree, showing that the previous government’s attempts to drive enrolment numbers using fee increases was always likely to fail.
These statistics further disprove claims fee increases would guide student preferences under the JRG.
DASSH is calling for university fee reform under the upcoming Accord to be undertaken by the Federal Government given the lack of evidence linking fee levels to job outcomes and career success more broadly.
Productivity Commission observations
In addition to results from the above reports, the Productivity Commission has recently made several key points about student fees being used as incentives in its 5-year Productivity Inquiry: From learning to growth. In this report the Commission finds that students are best placed to judge for themselves what education suits their interests and their aspirations.
The report rightly points out: “Government subsidies for tertiary education could be allocated more efficiently and equitably, without necessarily increasing the total amount of public funding.”
“Currently, governments set differential subsidies based on targeting public benefits and skill needs, but these have little impact on student choice because income-contingent loans eliminate upfront fees and make price differences less salient.”
Our members believe attempting to manipulate student preferences through price signalling is counterproductive to the aims of having an efficient and high-quality tertiary system.
DASSH strongly supports the evidence in the report that shows human capital will be more in demand in the future than ever before.
“As our reliance on the services sector expands, people’s capabilities (‘human capital’) will play a more important role than physical capital in improving productivity,” the report states.
“General and foundational skills will continue to underpin the workforce’s contribution to productivity, and as routine tasks are automated, newly created jobs will increasingly rely on areas such as interpersonal skills, critical thinking, working with more complex equipment, and accomplished literacy and numeracy.”
The skills described in the report are derived through the education of students in the arts, social sciences and humanities. It is impossible to know in advance what the value of these disciplines or specific courses offered within our degrees will be in part because of the rapidly changing nature of the labour market and the innovative ways in which knowledge is put to use in society.
The current price settings for arts, humanities and social sciences degrees were set without any evidence that they would work nor any consideration about the impact on current or future students.
Those degrees are valued by employers and provide a strong intellectual foundation for long term career success. The JRG punishes students who want to pursue studies that are beneficial to them and society more broadly and a new and more equitable pricing level should be developed.
The Federal Government must commit to abandoning the policy which is putting our students at a significant financial disadvantage.
Nick Bisley is President of the Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. He is Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University. His research focuses primarily on Asia’s international relations, great power politics and Australian foreign and defence policy. Nick is a member of the advisory board of China Matters and a member of the Council for Security and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. Nick is the author of many works on international relations, including Issues in 21st Century World Politics, 3rd Edition (Palgrave, 2017), Great Powers in the Changing International Order (Lynne Rienner, 2012), and Building Asia’s Security (IISS/Routledge, 2009, Adelphi No. 408). He regularly contributes to and is quoted in national and international media including The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and Time Magazine