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Postgrads are earning more than their undergrad peers

Team Prosple

Recent data suggests postgraduate study is a route to stronger rates of full-time employment and salaries across disciplines.

Postgrads don’t slouch when it comes to the job market. According to 2018 QILT survey results, full-time postgraduate coursework employment rose from 81.3% in 2015 to 92.4% in 2018 within four months of graduation. Median full-time salaries for postgraduate coursework degree holders increased by 18.4% in the same period, up to around $90,000 p/a. Within the same period, undergrads experienced a jump from 67.1% full-employment to 89.2% with median salaries reaching $70,000 p/a. 

This isn’t just select universities skewing the average. All universities around Australia achieved at least 85% full-time employment for their coursework graduates three years after graduation, with some of the big players like USYD hitting 95.7%, University of Notre Dame Australia 97.2% and the University of Melbourne 94.7%.

Go8 universities by median full-time employment rate four months after graduation (with three years after graduation in brackets) (QILT 2018, p12-13,45-46)


University Undergraduate employment rate after four months (three years) Postgraduate employment rate after four months (three years)
ANU 72.9% (92.9%) 86.7% (93.9%)
USYD 64.8% (88.9%) 83.6% (95.6%)
University of Melbourne 41.6% (84.2%) 79.3% (94.7%)
UWA 59.0% (88.2%) 74.8% (89.3%)
University of Adelaide 54.2% (89.2%) 80.7% (89.7%)
​​​​​​​UNSW 77.2% (91.8%) 92.4% (94.3%)
Monash University 67.8% (90.1%) 78.2% (91.3%)
UQ 71.5% (91.2%) 80.1% (93.7%)

Full-time employment rates tend to even out over the course of three years, with only marginal increases in some cases (89.2% - 89.7% for the University of Adelaide) and of greater significance in others (84.2% - 94.7% for the University of Melbourne). The most intriguing difference appears to be the divide between short-term full-time employment outcomes. The likes of the University of Melbourne for instance rising from 41.6% to 79.3% is fairly staggering, with UWA (59.0% - 74.8%), Adelaide (54.2% - 80.7%) and USYD (64.8% - 83.6%) commanding far higher rates at the postgraduate level. 

Salaries aren’t far behind this trend, but even underperformers command respectable full-time rates. At the top end, coursework graduates from the likes of CQU for example were earning $108,000 p/a three years out. In addition to postgrads by coursework making $20,000 more on average each year than those with solely undergrad qualifications(p8), 17.4% of employed postgraduates were being employed as managers compared to 9.3% for undergrads (p58-59).

Go8 universities by median full-time starting salary in AUD pa (with three years after graduation in brackets) (QILT 2018, p14-15,48-49) 

University Undergraduate salaries (and three years on) Postgraduate salaries (and three years on)
​​​​​​​ANU $58,500 ($72,000) $70,000 ($90,000)
USYD $56,000 ($70,000) $80,000 ($94,000)

University of Melbourne

$55,000 ($64,300) $68,000 ($86,400)
UWA $62,000 ($73,100) $99,000 ($90,000*)
University of Adelaide $58,000 ($66,000) $71,000 ($85,000)
UNSW $60,000 ($76,500) $100,000 ($114,800)
Monash University $55,000 ($69,000) $75,000 ($90,000)
UQ $57,500 ($71,000) $77,000 ($91,300)

* = due to an abnormally large gender pay gap ($79,100 for women vs $100,900 for men)

Unlike in the case of employment rates, postgraduates are seemingly favoured when it comes to both short term and long term salary outcomes. Even within the same institution, students can expect nearly $40,000 salary differences ($38,300 difference in the case of UNSW). What undergrads work for three years to achieve in full time employment, postgrad peers from the same institution are starting on far higher salaries according to the data. A USYD postgrad makes $10k more on average than an undergrad with three years of work experience. The most curious find from this small set of data is the decline of salary between when a UWA postgrad starts and three year from then. This improbable case represents the hazard of using averages to make wide-spanning remarks, as they may not be representative of the typical experience (which can sometimes vary substantial between men and women). So, although we love singing the praises of postgraduate study, please bear in mind the nuances of data and misinterpreting it! 

Postgraduate courses by research don’t have as favourable outcomes, but still beat sole undergrad degrees. Graduates from research degrees achieved 75.1% full time employment on average within four months of graduation, eight percentage points higher than for undergrads (p63). This reached 89.6% three years after graduation, with median salaries starting at $80,000 p/a and reaching $98,000 p/a three years later. 

The results suggest positive outcomes for all graduates, but some admittedly start stronger than others. While those in humanities degrees were met with 63.9% full time employment and a median salary of $80,000 four months within graduation, postgrads in the likes of nursing (96%) and medicine (85.2%) saw higher initial rates of employment. If you’re put-off by this and suspect you may be in an underperforming discipline, fear not! Your compatriots catch up in under three years and reach those six figure median full-time salaries (save for creative arts postgrads, who still end up with a respectable median $77,500 p/a!) No matter your cup of tea, the data suggests a postgrad degree makes for a sound investment. 

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