Today’s release of the annual ABS Education and Work publication has some good news on graduate employment. After a couple of years in which the total number of graduates with jobs stagnated, in 2005 compared to 2014 they were up by 7.5%. Growth in the number of graduates with managerial and professional jobs, the jobs the ABS classifies as requiring bachelor degrees or above, was lower at 5.3% – but that was still much better than in the two preceding years.
Converted to a percentages of the graduate population the improvement is harder to see. This is because the total number of graduates keeps increasing, up by 287,000 in a year according to this survey (completions according to the Department were 215,000 domestic students and 104,000 internationals – but the total number in the population is affected by migration in and out).
In 2015 the proportion of graduates in work with managerial or professional jobs was about 71%, while the proportion of all graduates with professional or managerial jobs was about 57%. While the time series is complicated by definition changes these are probably the lowest figures yet recorded, as seen in the chart below. However, the numbers are not as bad as recent graduate employment figures might suggest. This is partly because employment numbers improve over time, and partly because it takes time for new cohorts of graduates to significantly influence the total survey. Even with recent big graduating classes, the new entrants to the graduate pool are only about 6% of all graduates.
The 2015 final applications data has been released. One important point for me is that there has been a revision to the 2014 unique applicant data – that is, the time series that eliminates double counting to get a count of the number of persons who made an application. As some people use multiple methods of application, applications are only a rough proxy for applicants.
The revision has the effect of turning a stabilisation of demand between 2013 and 2014 into a 2.6 per cent increase. In 2015, total applicant numbers were a further 2 per cent up on 2014, reaching a record 331,460. That increase confirms the conclusion that whatever political impact the Labor/NUS/NTEU $100,000 degree campaign had, there was no discernible impact on market demand.
Growth in offers is more subdued now than it was in the early years of the demand driven system. It increased by 2.4 per cent between 2014 and 2015, compared to 4 per cent or more a year between 2011 and 2013. While universities have slowed their increase in offers, offers have grown at a higher annual percentage rate than applicants every year except one since 2010.
The report does not give us unique acceptances, which would be the strongest guide to first semester 2015 commencing undergraduate enrolments. But acceptance rates for people who applied through tertiary admission centres are up, from 70.3 per cent to 73.4 per cent. Unfortunately TAC time series remain hard to interpret, because this year shows that the long-term move away from TACs for non-school leaver applicants continues.
We’ll have to wait for the enrolment data to know for sure, but the boost in overall offers and the positive TAC applicant response suggests that commencing students will be up again. In one of those ironic policy twists, it might have made Simon Birmingham’s life a little easier if the $100,000 degree campaign had convinced more people that university would be too expensive. Growing student numbers just put more pressure on the system’s fiscal sustainability, and makes savings measures more necessary.
The annual summary report of university finances has been released. Overall, it shows that university finances continue to be in reasonable shape, especially compared to the period up until 2004 (2008 was the writing down of asset values due to the global financial crisis). The operating surplus in 2014 was $1.9 billion, or about 7 per cent of revenue. It peaked at 9 per cent of revenue in 2010.
Of course, aggregate figures like this can hide trouble at particular institutions. In 2014 compared to recent preceding years there was an increase in the number of institutions reporting deficits from one to three, although this is much better than in earlier years.
The three universities with deficits in 2014 were Victoria University, University of Tasmania and University of Canberra. The latter two had small deficits, but VU lost $16 million. Most of that was due to its TAFE division, suffering from the general turmoil in the vocational education market. Of the three, only VU has been on the deficit list before in the last 5 years.
Things might be a little worse for 2015, with government grant and student contribution indexation rates low and an efficiency dividend being applied to some grants. However, the international student market will be likely be adding to its already significant profits, which will ease the pain.