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Study analyses education and employment prospects for people from disadvantaged backgrounds

A study led by The University of Western Australia (UWA) and funded by the NCSEHE has found positive improvements for the disadvantaged in accessing a tertiary education but that there are still challenges that lie ahead in the job market.

The study, led by Dr Ian Li from UWA’s School of Population and Global Health, used 2016 data collected from the Australian Graduate Outcomes Study linked to administrative records from 19 Australian universities. It examined education and employment opportunities available to people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, people with a disability and people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Higher education policy in Australia has contributed to positive outcomes for equity groups, in terms of facilitating access, participation and completion of university. At the same time, prior research has indicated that labour market outcomes are comparable for graduates from equity groups to their non-equity counterparts. It is unknown, however, whether graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds have equitable outcomes in terms of participation in further study after the completion of their undergraduate degree. Given that research findings indicate superior earnings and positive labour market outcomes for postgraduates, it is of policy interest to examine post-study pathways for disadvantaged individuals, in comparison with their relatively privileged peers.

This study uses data from the 2016 Australian Graduate Outcomes Survey, linked to student administrative records from 19 participating Australian universities, to examine post-degree study and employment outcomes. In particular, the study looks at how equity group membership, undergraduate degree characteristics, and undergraduate academic performance influences post-degree study and employment outcomes.

The results from the multivariate analyses indicate that graduates from a low socioeconomic status (SES) background, or with disability, or from a non-English speaking background (NESB) were less likely to be in employment post-degree, relative to their respective counterparts. The estimated reduced propensity of employment for these groups were rather sizable, and were up to 16 per cent less for NESB graduates. However, in terms of further study post-degree, graduates from all equity groups, with the exception of graduates from regional and remote areas, were around two to five per cent more likely to be in further study after their undergraduate degrees were completed, relative to graduates from non-disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, academic ability, as proxied by Weighted Average Marks, and undergraduate degree field of study areas were found to be influential on the graduates’ propensity to be in further study or employment.

Furthermore, graduates from the equity groups of low SES background, disability and NESB were found to be disadvantaged in labour market outcomes. For example, they were less likely to be in full-time employment, more likely to be mismatched in their jobs if there were employed, and earned less. In particular, graduates from NESB backgrounds were the most disadvantaged in these labour market outcomes.

Despite poor labour market outcomes for the stated equity groups, the findings from this study are encouraging for post-graduate study for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. From the perspective of higher education participation, participation in further study, including postgraduate courses, appear to be accessible for individuals from equity backgrounds. Therefore, more needs to be done from the perspective of ensuring equitable employment outcomes, especially for students from equity backgrounds as they enter employment after post-graduate study.

Read the full report here.


This report was funded under the 2017 NCSEHE Research Grants Program.

Posted 16 April 2019 Posted in Culturally and linguistically diverse, Disability, General, Low SES

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